Recapping another championship season for the San Juan Broncos
by Rhett Sifford
When the San Juan High School boys basketball team tipped off their season back in November, they knew they could very well be playing for a state championship at the end of the year.
Not only did they know it was possible, anything less would have seemed like a failure.
Coming off a convincing 2A football state title just days before, many of the same athletes were now taking to the basketball court.
The Broncos opened on November 23, 2021 with an easy 63-33 win over the rival Grand County Red Devils in the San Juan gym, then they immediately went on Thanksgiving Break.
The following weekend San Juan hit the road to face the team that beat them just a few months before in the 3A state championship game – the Juab Wasps.
The teams were entirely different this time around. San Juan was of course very senior-heavy, while Juab had lost the core of the team that won the previous season’s title. The Broncos prevailed 62-43.
To close out that first road trip the Broncos whipped Duchesne 70-27 and moved to 3-0 on the season. That set them up for their first real test of the year back at home against Real Salt Lake Academy.
The stacked Griffins cruised into the San Juan gym and dominated from start to finish, handing the Broncos their first loss of the season 87-63.
Despite the lopsided score, San Juan Head Coach Travis Black received compliments from the RSL staff on the impressive level of competitiveness and endurance the Broncos exhibited.
Following the loss, the Broncos rattled off four straight wins to close out the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule, outscoring their opponents 331-188 along the way.
After the Christmas break, San Juan headed to Cedar City to play in the Steve Hodson Cancer Classic, where they would face tough 3A-4A competition.
At that three-day tournament December 28-30, the Broncos suffered a one-point loss to 4A Hurricane, but beat 3A Canyon View and Grantsville to improve to 9-2 on the year.
Grantsville eventually finished second in the 3A state tournament, losing to Layton Christian in the championship game. One might entertain the thought that if San Juan had remained in 3A, they very well might have returned to the title game at that level also.
The Broncos opened Region 19 play and the new year on January 4 with a 62-41 win over the Emery Spartans on the road.
The following weekend the Broncos hosted Enterprise in the much-anticipated first matchup between the top two teams in the state at the 2A level.
San Juan had the Wolves on the ropes, up nine points with just two minutes remaining in the game in front of a raucous Bronco crowd in the SJHS gym.
But they lost their focus, allowing Enterprise to rally, and the Wolves stunned everyone in the building when they stole the ball and scored at the buzzer to down San Juan 58-57.
It was a tough loss to be sure, but it galvanized the Broncos and prepared them for the remainder of the season.
Over the next three weeks they strung together five straight wins over region foes Parowan, South Sevier, Beaver, Kanab, and the rematch with the Matt Ramos-less Wolves.
But on the return trip from Enterprise on Saturday, January 29 San Juan suffered a shocking setback. The Parowan Rams, who had upset then #1 Enterprise the previous week, repeated the feat, dominating the Broncos from start to finish 80-61.
Following that loss, San Juan began the month of February with two more convincing region wins over South Sevier and Beaver before suffering another upset to close out the regular season in Kanab February 11.
It was a bit of a fluke. The Broncos’ shooting was poor, and Cowboy point guard Jordan Cornell absolutely exploded for 32 points in his team’s upset win over San Juan.
But we do have to give Kanab a little bit of credit. They went on to finish third in the 2A state tournament this past weekend, beating Rowland Hall after suffering a loss to Enterprise in the semifinals.
So the last half of the season wasn’t a cakewalk for San Juan. They admittedly were up-and-down throughout region play.
They ended the regular season with a 17-5 record, and if it hadn’t been for an Enterprise loss on the final night of the regular season, they may have not entered the state tourney as the #1 seed.
But they did hang on to the top spot in the classification and the rest, as they say, is history. Of course it’s history that’s fresh on the minds of Bronco fans, and it will be for some time.
San Juan put together their most important winning streak of the season to close out the year – four straight over Beaver, Rockwell, Rowland Hall, and Enterprise to win the 2022 2A Utah Boys State basketball championship.
This is the fourth state championship I have personally witnessed in my 18+ years in San Juan County, and I will tell you it happens the same way every time.
These players band together as brothers – as a family. They hadve each others’ backs every time. When one area of their game is suffering, someone steps up in another place to fill in the gap.
This season there was also something even more special. With the tragic loss of assistant coach Taylor Black in the summer, there was another reason to fight for the state title. The team dedicated their season to Taylor, and he was truly present all year.
These Broncos went deep into the bench and everyone who came onto the court this season contributed in a meaningful way, from the starters on down to the players who saw limited varsity action.
They were one in purpose and in the pursuit of their goal. They would not be denied a state title this season. And they never doubted that they could get it done.
A couple of statistics of note now that the season is complete: This team could truly shoot the long ball. They hit 188 three-point baskets on the season and were 31.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Ladd Ivins led the way with 53 treys, Jensen Grover hit 42, and Jayden Black got 29. Three other Broncos scored 17 apiece – Cooper Black, Jace Palmer, and Preston Imlay.
Ivins finished the year as the team’s leading scorer with 381 points, which was an average of almost 15 per game. Grover was right behind with 333 (12.8 ppg), and Cooper Black scored 327 (12.6 ppg).
Jace Palmer was the top San Juan rebounder in 2021-22 with 179. Cooper Black pulled down 158 boards on the year and Jayden Black got 127.
Defensively Cooper Black was credited with 35 shot blocks, although I think there’s a good chance he had more than that. Jensen Grover led the way with 51 steals on the season.
The team will say goodbye to a large contingent of seniors who will graduate at the end of the school year, and they’ll begin a bit of a “rebuilding” phase.
But that’s just how it works in high school sports. There will always be a lot of turnover from year to year. It’s the nature of the beast.
These Broncos truly made their mark though, winning the school’s first state basketball title in 30 years. It’s an inspiring achievement that will help to propel the program well into the future.