This week brings us two more installments of Tooele County’s premier rivalry on the hardwood.
Tonight, the Tooele and Stansbury girls basketball teams meet at Stansbury High. Wednesday night, the schools’ boys squads will face off at Tooele High.
To be sure, whenever the Buffaloes and Stallions meet, the intensity is ratcheted up several notches. After all, there are bragging rights up for grabs. It’s the long, storied history of Tooele High matched up against the still-relatively-new kids on the block from Stansbury High. For the winner, it’s an opportunity to wear their school colors around town just a little more proudly for a while.
But this year, there’s more at stake than that.
For the first time in a long time, Tooele’s girls are battling for the right to host a first-round playoff game. That’s thanks in no small part to the Buffaloes’ overtime victory over Stansbury the first time they met this season. And while both the Buffs and Stallions have since lost to Region 11 foe Bonneville, making it an uphill climb to catch the Lakers for the region title, second place is up for grabs — and, if you’re Tooele, a chance for the last game of the regular season at Bonneville to serve as a de facto region title tilt in its second year under coach Randy Goss’ guidance.
If you’re Stansbury? Hosting a playoff game has proven to be a huge advantage for the Stallions over the years. In fact, Stansbury pulled off back-to-back wins at the buzzer in the first round of the playoffs in 2015 and 2016. Given that history, does anyone really want to see coach Kenzie Newton’s squad in its home gym in the opening round of the playoffs? Probably not.
The stakes are similarly high in the boys game Wednesday, with Stansbury having won the first matchup with Tooele by three points. A Stansbury win gives them a shot at tying Juan Diego for the region title and clinches the Stallions’ first-ever home playoff game. A Tooele win by more than three points likely gives the Buffs a home playoff game for the second year in a row.
Neither the Buffs nor the Stallions had the world’s greatest record coming out of the preseason. But coaches Josh Johnsen and Joe White remained optimistic about what the region season had in store. As it turns out, both of them were absolutely right. Outside of Juan Diego, which everyone had pegged as the Region 11 favorite coming into the season, nobody’s playing better than Tooele and Stansbury right now.
And while the winner of Wednesday’s game gets homecourt advantage, I’m not sure anyone’s going to want to play the loser as a No. 3 seed. The way both teams play, with rock-solid defense on one end and near-freakish athleticism at the other, a matchup with the Stallions or the Buffs doesn’t serve as much of a reward for Region 10’s runner-up. Just ask Bear River, which barely escaped Tooele with a victory earlier this season and only beat Stansbury by seven.
So, yes, pride and bragging rights are important — without them, Tooele vs. Stansbury wouldn’t be considered a rivalry in the truest sense. But when the games truly mean something in the standings? This is going to be fun.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He’s gleefully anticipating playoff-like intensity this week. Email him at email@example.com.