Much like last year, the Class 4A field in both boys and girls basketball is wide open. That means the championship trophy handed out at the end of the season is up for grabs.
It’s still early, but if the first few weeks of the season are any indication, this will be the year of beasts in the East and a case of the wild West.
Defending champion Kelly Walsh (boys) and Cheyenne East (girls) return just three letterwinners from last year’s teams. That’s right, 2018 is going to be crazy.
The Trojans’ youth does have promise that could carry them into the state tournament but it won’t be easy. Green River, Evanston and Rock Springs all look like legitimate contenders while Jackson and Natrona County will also vie for that final tournament berth.
Those top three teams aren’t familiar with the promised land. Rock Springs finished second last season but the actual championship has eluded those teams in the southwest corner of the state. Since 1987, Evanston, Green River and Rock Springs have combined for three state championships, with Evanston claiming all three (2004, 2012-13).
Meanwhile, in the East Conference, Gillette, Sheridan and Cheyenne East could all make a run to the championship, with Laramie and Cheyenne South also capable of catching fire for a postseason run.
Those top three teams are no stranger to Casper and the state tournament. Since 1990, East, Sheridan and Gillette have combined for 15 state championships.
Hence, the wild West Conference versus the beasts of the East Conference in the tournament’s quarterfinals.
The girls’ race gets even more muddled.
Cheyenne East reloaded and still has a championship pedigree while last year’s runner-up, Gillette, has struggled. The East has been in a non-conference dogfight and it will take two weeks of conference games to figure out a pecking order.
Right now, East, Thunder Basin, Gillette, Laramie, Cheyenne Central and Sheridan could all make a run through conference play and wind up in the state tournament. East has size, Thunder Basin has grit, Gillette has shooters, Laramie has consistency, Central has potential and Sheridan has defense.
After last year’s tournament troubles, the West Conference may be out for revenge. Evanston, guided by one of the conference’s best players in senior Emmery Wagstaff, could make a charge to the top.
Kelly Walsh, Natrona County and Rock Springs could also wind up in the tournament with favorable match-ups. As long as there is still Madison Vinich (Trojans), Kristy Dick (Fillies) and Ky Buell (Tigers), those three teams could still fight their way to the state tournament.
Rock Springs has proven its ability to shoot and rebound and has hung its hats on those two traits all season. But Evanston is a scrappy team with role players that can work together to create shots.
Natrona County can compete with anyone but the Fillies have yet to play a full 32 minutes. Kelly Walsh is one of the best teams in the state when running the transition offense but the Trojans struggle in the half-court.
With no clear favorite, Class 4A is going to be a race to the top. But with two months remaining, it’s still a marathon and not a sprint.