The Grand County Red Devils were a mixed bag during calendar year 2016, bringing home a pair of state championship trophies, competing for a couple of others, and overall being competitive in a majority of sports. In this article, I’ll take a look back at 2016 and a look ahead to 2017.
The Red Devils currently in season are all off to good starts. The boy’s basketball team is off to a 6-3 start in preseason play, having finished 2016 with a 103-55 win over Green River on Dec. 20, before going 1-1 at the Smithfield Foods Classic, losing 57-56 to Beaver on Dec. 29 and defeating Milford 77-50 on Dec. 30. The Red Devils are a team on the rise. They’re a deep team with several scoring options and a winning culture and attitude. After going winless in region play last year, look for Grand to make a splash in Region 15 in 2017. Region play begins this weekend, when Grand plays host to North Sevier and Gunnison Valley. The Wolves come to the Devil’s Den on Friday, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m., and the Bulldogs come to town on Saturday, Jan. 7, at 4:30 p.m.
The Lady Red Devils are also off to a good start this season despite having an already tiny roster further depleted with injury. Grand is 4-2 so far, including a 57-12 win over Merit Academy on Dec. 16 and a 40-37 win over Montezuma-Cortez, Colorado, on Dec. 19. The Lady Red Devils begin region play on the road with the same opponents at the same times as their male counterparts, only they travel to Salina and Gunnison. Longtime assistant and first-year head coach Randy Martin has the Lady Red Devils going in the right direction after they went 7-14 in 2015-16, including a 3-7 mark in Region 15 play.
The Grand wrestling team is off to a comparatively blistering start after several years on the decline. The Red Devils’ roster has nearly tripled in size since last season, giving them a leg up in team competition. Several upperclassmen are having strong seasons, including juniors Kayden Robertson and Dakota Johnson, but also have a strong roster of younger grapplers, which should keep Grand on the rise for the foreseeable future. Freshman Carson Sheets is undefeated for the season so far at 126 pounds while Carson Whitney isn’t far behind. Grand resumes competition this weekend at the 2A Duels Friday and Saturday, Jan. 6 and 7, at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield, after which we’ll have a much clearer perception of where the Red Devils stand among 2A wrestling teams.
Last but not least for winter sports, the Red Devil swim team continues to be one of the top small teams in the state after taking home the girls’ state championship in 2A last season. Grand appears even better than itsr state title team with another year under the belts of seniors Alexa Pierce, River Richards and Jayelen Knowles leading the team and sophomores Mary Kimmerle and London Richards hot on their heels. The boys haven’t reached the upper echelon of 2A teams just yet, but they’re on their way as the pool becomes a more and more popular place for male Red Devil athletes to spend their winters. This years boys are led by sophomore Braxten Pierce and have several other strong swimmers, including senior Jonathan Park and sophomores Connor Ainge and Alex Lacy among others.
Looking forward to the spring, the Red Devil baseball team figures to stay among the top handful of schools in a highly competitive 2A race. The Red Devils went 22-5 last season, placing second in 2A East. The Red Devils won five playoff games and finished third in 2A, finally being dispatched in the semifinals 7-6 by 2A East champion and state runner-up North Sevier. The Red Devils only lost a couple of seniors from last year’s squad, so look for them to be a favorite in 2A this season.
In softball, the Lady Red Devils looked poised for much of last season to make a deep run in the playoffs after going 10-0 in 2A East play and 16-8 overall. After winning their opening game in the playoffs, however, Grand took an early exit with back-to-back defeats at the hands of Beaver and Gunnison Valley. Grand lost a large group of talented seniors, but a talented group of returning players should keep the Lady Red Devils near the top of 2A.
In track and field, the boys and girls each are still trying to reload after spending time atop the mountain earlier this decade. Grand’s girls tied for ninth in 2A in 2016, while the boys, only a couple of years removed from being state champions, finished 13th. The Red Devils boys should make a significant climb up the ladder as their extremely young team from 2016 will be a year older in 2017. Distance looks to be Grand’s strength as junior Ryan Lewis and sophomore Evan Ellison are two of the premier runners in 2A. The girls are less predictable in whether they’ll climb or fall. They have three returning athletes who scored points at state in individual events: seniors Alexa Pierce (400 meters) and Halli Stocks (discus) and sophomore Auburn Jackman (400 meters).
The girls golf team is coming off a fourth-place showing in 2A after placing three golfers in the top 10. Their success in 2017 will be dependent on roster size. The Lady Red Devils traditionally have a small roster of only four to six players and need four players to register a score in team competition. Individually look for sisters senior Sarah Day and sophomore Jamie Day to be among the top 10 golfers in 2A.
In boys soccer, the Red Devils rebounded from a couple of seasons near the bottom of 2A to finish in the middle of the pack at 5-6-1, narrowly missing out on the playoffs. With much of their core returning for 2017, including sophomores Nolan Ramirez and Kane Scherer, look for Grand to return to the postseason.
In boys tennis, the Red Devils are only two years removed from taking second in 2A, but this year, they return only one state qualifier in Elton Kunze-Jones. I predict he’ll move from doubles to singles this year. Look for Grand, depending on roster size, to match or surpass its 2016 results.
In fall sports, the Red Devils claimed their second consecutive state title in 2016 and figure a favorite to win a third in 2017. Grand’s window is far from closed with seemingly all of their top scorers returning, including Alec Williams, who placed third individually at the state tournament in 2016. Add to the mix Masen Ward, Brendon Woodard, Jaxen Saunders, Luke Williams and Kane Scherer and you have a golf team poised to defend its crown.
In football, Grand will look to make its way back into the title conversation in 2017 after a 5-6 mark in 2016, including 1-4 in 2A South play. The injury bug hit an otherwise talented Grand roster hard in 2016 when projected starting quarterback Josh Jones was injured to start the season, only to return for one game and get injured again. A small roster that lacked depth hurt the Red Devils in 2016, but should they stay healthy, they have plenty of talent a year older and wiser to move up the ranks in 2017. Along with Jones, look for a strong group of senior leaders also including Brayden Schultz, Dakota Johnson, Gage Hansen and Nick Downard, as well as significant contributions from younger players like Trent Elmore and Brayden and Bryant Troutt.
In girls soccer, the Lady Red Devils finished second in Region 15 with a 5-3 record before beating St. Joseph 5-0 in the first round of the playoffs. Their season was ended in round two with a 5-1 loss to Maesar Preparatory Academy. Look for Grand to again finish near the top in region play and perhaps go deeper in the playoffs. The Lady Red Devils figure to be led by goalkeeper Tyra Robertson and goalscorer Ali Hirt.
In volleyball, Grand finished 2016 with an 8-15 overall record, going only 1-5 in Region 15 play. Grand lost a large group of talented seniors in 2015, leaving the young team to pick up the pieces last season. Grand will look to keep putting those pieces back in place in hopes of returning to postseason play in 2017.
In cross country, the Red Devil boys will be heavy at the top with Ryan Lewis and Evan Ellison, both of whom finished in the top seven at the state championships in 2016 but after almost everyone else on the team graduates, it will be interesting to see where Grand sits as a team in 2017. The girls will be even less predictable as they have only one returning state qualifier in Ali Hirt, who also competes in girls soccer during the fall. Hirt, however, placed 10th at state as a freshman in 2016.
To round out the list of Red Devil sports teams, the girls tennis team had both of its doubles tandems qualify for state in 2016 as the previously mentioned Day sisters were, and the team of then-sophomores London Richards and Kiersten Kimmerle were each ousted in the first round by Rowland Hall opponents. Sarah Day graduates in the spring, so look for Jamie Day to move to singles. Richards and Kimmerle could remain a doubles team and move up to No. 1 doubles, or also move to singles competition. Grand had eight players to begin 2016, with no high school tennis experience whatsoever outside of the Day sisters. With that in mind, look for Grand to be at least as good as it was last year, and probably better.
As you’ve read so far, the majority of Red Devil sports are in a period of ascension, so there may be several shiny additions to the trophy case in the coming year. Last year was OK, but 2017 looks to be a banner year for the Red Devils.
“Red Devils boys basketball are a team on the rise. They’re a deep team with several scoring options and a winning culture and attitude.”
“Grand lost a large group of talented seniors, but a talented group of returning players should keep the Lady Red Devils near the top of 2A.”