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Holladay Journal

New cast of leaders emerge on reloaded Olympus boys basketball team

Feb 17, 2020 11:51AM ● By Josh McFadden

Senior Thomas Michie is one of a handful of contributors to the Titans’ balanced team. (Photo courtesy Trent Michie)

By Josh McFadden | [email protected]

Now in his 23rd year at the helm of the Olympus boys basketball team, head coach Matt Barnes has seen just about everything during his tenure. In the past five years, he’s seen some victories. 

Lots of them.

The longtime coach knew this year was probably going to be different. The Titans had to replace current University of Utah starting guard Rylan Jones and his per-game averages of 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, eight assists and three steals. Last year’s leading scorer, three-point dynamo Jeremey Dowdell, left with his 28 points per game. This season had all the makings of some rebuilding. 

It certainly started out that way. 

The Titans began the season 3-6 before jumping into region play. The six losses were as many as the team had suffered in the previous three seasons combined. Although, as Barnes pointed out, the Titans weren’t exactly playing a bunch of nobodies. In part due to the new RPI system, which rates a team according to its strength of schedule, Barnes set up a grueling first month of the season that include some talented Class 6A schools and other formidable opponents. 

Barnes acknowledged the early lumps weren’t easy to take for a team that was not only used to winning but winning big. Still, he said he wasn’t discouraged and is pleased with the group’s progress.

“I’m happy with the guys,” he said. “They’ve worked hard and made strides. Hopefully we can keep coming together and keep improving.”

Seniors Zach Alder, Caden Kuhn, Thomas Michie and Nathaniel Lowe aren’t accustomed to being on the wrong end of the scoreboard. Barnes said they and their teammates had some rough patches trying to cope with the defeats, but they’ve bounced back with a positive attitude and strong work ethic.

“The kids have been great and handled it well,” he said. “We keep saying good times are ahead. This is a new situation for all of us. We have a lot of learning to do and a lot of growing up to do.”

Olympus reeled off four straight wins in Region 6 games, defeating Highland (79-61), Hillcrest (67-59), Cottonwood (60-44) and Brighton (62-42). That followed a two-game skid with a 67-54 loss at East and a double-overtime heartbreaker against Murray, 76-74. The Titans regrouped for a 72-41 rout of Skyline, leaving them with a 5-2 mark at the halfway point of the region slate and 8-8 overall. They were tied with Brighton, East and Murray atop the region standings. 

“We’ve been competitive,” Barnes said. “Hopefully, we can compete for a region title and make another run at state.”

Along with his four seniors, Barnes has relied on juniors Alex Johnson and Ben Krystkowiak and sophomore Jack Wistrcill. He doesn’t have a superstar like in years past, but several players have contributed. 

“It’s be a collective group effort,” Barnes said. “We’ve been balanced across the board. It makes us hard to defend.”

Krystkowiak, son of University of Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak, leads the team with 13 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Alder adds 10.6 points and 3.3 rebounds an outing. 

As satisfying as it has been to win two state titles in the past five years and dominate the competition, Barnes said it’s also rewarding to see these players progress, overcome odds and find success. 

“Winning is not easy; winning comes with sacrifice,” he said. “These kids are coachable and pushing through. I’m going to try to do everything I can to help the kids enjoy the ride. It’s rewarding to win, but it’s also rewarding to go through ups and downs and come through.”

The Titans will face Mountain View in the first round of the state tournament on Wednesday, February 19.