The landscape of Class 3A looks dramatically different in 2018 than how it did in January 2017.
Eventual boys champions Riverton graduated their top seven players, leaving only a select few with varsity experience to defend the gold. Girls champion Star Valley suffered a similar fate as bench contributors have now been asked to become leaders.
But that doesn’t mean new champions are inevitable.
Both the Wolverines and Braves have played against Class 4A competition to season them for their title defenses. Both will have been battle tested by the time regional tournaments come around and, major upsets notwithstanding, both should be back in Casper in mid-March.
There are, however, other teams deserving of attention while the champions have been nurturing inexperience.
On the boys side of the ledger, Buffalo, Rawlins and Newcastle have all surprised with strong starts to the season. Then there’s Douglas, which is usually a stalwart of the East Conference but started 0-7 before winning consecutive games.
Riverton will also be tested within its own conference by Cody and upstart Pinedale. And if Mountain View can hit shots, the Buffalos could be right in the West Conference mix as well.
On the girls side of action the presumption is the season is merely a tease for the looming Douglas vs. Lyman state championship. Both are undefeated as the Bearcats ran rampant through their non-conference peers and the Eagles survived with wins against 4A Green River, Rock Springs and Cheyenne Central.
Powell has the tools to contend in the West Conference as well and Cody is talented enough to give Lyman a push in the West Regional. Buffalo may challenge Douglas in the East Conference while wild cards Rawlins, Torrington and Thermopolis loom with upset potential.
A hierarchy has yet to be cemented in 3A, but that should change with the first two weeks of conference action. Expect the defending champions to be on the top-side of that shakeup.