As the new boys basketball season dawns, it’s impossible not to revisit how truly unique last season’s state tournament was. Two long droughts were ended while two other prestigious programs added another chunk of hardware to their respective cupboards.
But what all of those teams have in common is they will not be untested by the time their seasons end. Three of those teams, however, will have the opportunity to prove their doubters wrong in the season’s opening weekend.
Both Kelly Walsh and Riverton will compete in the Casper Invitational, while Wind River begins its season in the Bridger Valley Tournament. Burlington does not play this weekend and instead begins play at the Shoshoni Tournament starting Dec. 15.
Every team across the state goes into this weekend with hope of knocking off each of those champions. A clean slate means they have as good of a chance as their peers. But there are a few in each classification, specifically, to be on the lookout for.
Kelly Walsh loses seven seniors, including all starters from last year’s championship team. That clears the way for a wide-open Class 4A West Conference. Rock Springs also loses its two biggest contributors, Evanston loses six seniors and Natrona County’s top scorers were seniors.
The Red Devils should still be in the mix this season and those young Trojans did learn how to win last year so that could be interesting. Don’t sleep on Rock Springs’ senior class or even Green River to make a run.
A lot of buzz belongs to the 4A East Conference, where the Gillette will still be tough, as will Laramie. The top two in the conference may be Cheyenne East and Sheridan, but a few dynamic players could put Central into the state tournament.
Riverton also loses seven seniors and its head coach from last year. That opens the door for Rawlins, who returns a vast amount of talent that hiccuped at the end of last year and drew the Wolverines in the quarterfinals. Douglas and Mountain View both lose nearly half their varsity squads from last year.
Joining the Outlaws in the Class 3A East Conference race will likely be Torrington and Worland. Meanwhile in the West Conference, Cody just missed out on last year’s state tournament but will return a more experienced squad this season.
Then there’s Lander, who will be a year older and now under former Riverton head coach Stu Mullins.
Class 2A returning champion Wind River may have the best case at a repeat as the Cougars return both Jayin and Jarick Trumble, as well as role player Dalton Finley. They will, however, have to survive a difficult West Conference.
Rocky Mountain returns six of its top seven scorers from last season, Wyoming Indian always catches fire near the regional tournament, plus non-qualifiers Big Piney and Greybull return the majority of their squads.
The East Conference is up in the air as Pine Bluffs, standard bearer at the top of the East, lost seven players to graduation. But the Hornets have a storied enough history to believe head coach Will Gray will have his team playing in Casper into mid-March.
Upton and Big Horn may be the biggest threats to the Hornets. Glenrock and Wright should also be in the mix to make the state tournament.
Class 1A champion Burlington does return its top two leading scorers in Dallin Davidson and Dontae Garza, making the Huskies a legitimate to achieve an unprecedented five-peat. Standing in the way of that is returning runner-up Snake River, who returns all but one player from last year’s squad.
Add in the talent of Cokeville, Farson and St. Stephens, and the winner of the West Conference will be heavily favored to hoist the trophy by season’s end.
Kaycee and Lingle-Fort Laramie should be the best options out of the East Conference with Hannah and Midwest knocking on the door of state tournament berths.
All of those teams and players have a chance to cut down the nets in Casper at the end of the year. Not all of them, however, are guaranteed to get there.
The long road to the Casper Events Center begins this weekend.