There is no such thing as “easing into it” when it comes to the beginning of the spring sports season.
Unlike football season, which puts its players through a whole summer filled with seven-on-seven drills and the notorious two-a-days as the season approaches, spring athletes have little time to shift gears before the first games.
Just two weeks ago, teams were awaiting the start of tryouts. This weekend, the season starts in earnest as Grantsville, Stansbury and Tooele all will send their softball, baseball and girls golf teams to sunny St. George to get plenty of valuable early-season experience.
It’s hard to say what the benefit of a few extra days of practice would be. After all, thanks to the way the Utah High School Activities Association structures its state tournaments, these early-season games amount to little more than glorified exhibitions — also known as “practice.” They have no bearing on who’s going to be in the state tournament come May, and all the teams are in the same boat — they’ve all just barely been picked and are playing some of their first games of the season.
There’s really no substitute for facing varsity-level competition this early in the season. Sure, the teams could have an extra week of practice against their own junior varsities, but the speed of the game and the quality of competition increases markedly at the varsity level. While some programs are blessed with depth that extends all the way to the JV pitching staff, odds of your JV ace competing at the same level of someone else’s top varsity pitcher are slim.
The local squads will get a good idea of where they stand against some of the top teams in the state. The softball teams from Tooele and Stansbury will each face perennial power Spanish Fork. Tooele also will face traditional Class 2A powerhouse Manti, while Stansbury will see Class 5A Bingham and Class 4A Murray. Meanwhile, Grantsville will face East and Springville, as well as Coconino High from Flagstaff, Arizona.
The baseball teams from Tooele and Stansbury will play each other in St, George, and will also face Dixie and Carbon. Grantsville will play Skyline, Sky View and Delta.
These games mean little in the grand scheme of things, since Utah doesn’t use a selection committee to determine its state tournament fields. It is all about what happens once the region season starts. But the experience gained on the field from this weekend in Washington County could pay dividends when the state tournament rolls around.
Perhaps just as important is the opportunity for these teams to bond through the long bus rides, going out to eat together and time spent together at the team hotel.
While each of the teams would like to return from southern Utah undefeated, there are more important things to be gained than just wins and losses.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. Once, he was at a tournament in St. George that was snowed out — the unlikliest of all outcomes. Email him at email@example.com.