The Dixie State men’s basketball team will take a trip north to take on Utah Valley Saturday afternoon. The Trailblazers, who are 7-8 overall, look to bounce back from a tough opening weekend of WAC play. Taking on the 77th NET-ranked Wolverines will be a tough task. But not one that is new to the program. The 2021-2022 season marks the 50th anniversary of the Old Hammer Rivalry between Dixie State and Utah Valley.
The rivalry, whose name is a representation of the development of the St. George area dates back to the early ’70s. It took shape when both schools competed in the NJCAA SWAC every season until 2003. That is when Utah Valley made the move to the Division I level. In the ensuing 17 seasons, the two teams matched up in several exhibition matchups all of which Utah Valley won.
The rivalry was reignited last season in a two-game series that took place at the UCCU Center in Orem. The Wolverines won first matchup as conference foes in nearly 17 years, 87-72. Trevon Allfrey led the way with a career-high 18 points and Andre Mulibea added 14. Game two of the series had a different outcome for Dixie State. With an incredible 31-point performance from Hunter Schofield, Dixie State downed the Wolverines 93-69 thus lighting the flame of the renewed rivalry.
Saturday’s showdown will pose a huge challenge for Jon Judkins’ squad. The Wolverines are good, plain and simple. Holding the before-mentioned 77 NET ranking and possibly the best big-man in the country, Fardaws Aimaq. Dixie’s two losses at home in the opening weekend of WAC play make an upset on the road seem like a long shot. But rivalries produce everyone’s best shot. Like last season, the Trailblazers will bring that best shot. Despite being on a current three-game losing streak, the Trailblazers have strengths that bode well in the matchup.
Hunter Schofield, in his hometown, might be the biggest asset that Dixie State brings into Saturday’s bout. His career-high 31-point performance in Orem last season is only the tip of the iceberg. The Spanish Fork, Utah native played his high school ball only 13.8 miles away from the UCCU center and played his two years of junior college basketball just 34.6 miles away. Averaging 19 points per game in high school and 12.5 at the JUCO level, it’s no secret that Schofield plays well in Northern Utah. His matchup with Aimaq will be one to watch on Saturday afternoon.
The Texas Two, well one is from Suriname but he played his junior college ball in Texas, Cameron Gooden and Dancell Leter bring added strength to the Trailblazer lineup. Gooden, a 5’11” junior guard runs Judkins offense. His drive-first style of play draws defenders and allows him to be creative with this shots and passes. Gooden leads the team in scoring at 13.8 points per game along with 4 rebounds and 3.6 assists. Coming off an uncharacteristic 4-point performance, Gooden’s offensive production is a must on Saturday. Leter, on the other hand, looks to continue a hot streak with 13+ points in his last three games. His length and and athleticism will be a huge asset for Judkins’ squad as the try to keep Aimaq off the boards.
Career long Trailblazers like Frank Staine, Trevon Allfrey and newcomer Noa Gonsalves know Judkins’ system and his expected hard-knocks style of play. All three continue to put together impressive 21-22 campaigns and solidify their roles. Utah Valley comes to play hard every night. Staine, Allfrey and Gonsalves will provide the Trailblazers much needed toughness against an already tough opponent.
Saturday afternoon’s WAC rivalry matchup will be must watch. With the revived rivalry currently split at 1-1, expect both teams to bring their best. No doubt, the Trailblazers and this writer, expect an upset. It will take a squad effort and improved play to do it. But Judkins has a knack for getting his team up to the task. The Old Hammer rivalry is named after the growth of the St. George area. It’s only right that Dixie comes away with the victory.