The Post Register’s Best of 2017 in sports

Ririe coaches and players celebrate winning the 2A girls basketball state championship 56-34 over Malad on February 18 at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa. Steve Conner /

Skyline players hold up the 4A state championship trophy after defeating Minico High School 40-14 for the 4A football state title on Nov. 17 at Holt Arena. John Roark /

Bonneville’s Stetson Moss competes in the 3,200 meters during the HCC Invitational at Thunder Stadium in May. Monte LaOrange /

Dale Gardner, Bonneville athletic director, and Barney Gardner, Hillcrest athletic director pose for a portrait at Thunder Stadium in June. Both men retired this year. Taylor Carpenter / Post Register File

Members of the Skyline girls cross-country team embrace shortly after learning they beat defending 4A state champion Twin Falls by four points to win a program-first state championship on Oct. 28 at Eagle Island State Park. Marlowe Hereford /

Members of the Idaho Falls High School boys cross-country team take off at the start the 4A District 5-6 cross country championships on Oct. 20 at Russ Freeman Park. John Roark /

Well, so long 2017.

As the year comes to a close, the Post Register sports staff looks back on moments from the past year, votes and compiles the top 10 story lines from our coverage area.

From classification changes to coaches retiring, some story lines showed the best of sports. Others caused some controversy.

Here is our top 10 for 2017.

10. Drama at Idaho State

The year is not over until Idaho State athletics has some sort of meltdown.

This time, however, it wasn’t on the field, but rather, what happened internally.

Idaho State Athletic department came under intense scrutiny in early August when football boosters and alumni called for the removal of Idaho State President Arthur Vailas and Athletic Director Jeff Tingey.

Bluntly, things got a little ugly.

The ISU Football Alumni Team withheld close to $80,000 in fundraising money from the program, calling for immediate change to the program and the firing of Vailas and Tingey. The alumni team, acronymed “FAT,” wrote and signed an opinion column published by the Idaho State Journal that created state-wide headlines.

ISU Athletics responded two days later, Aug. 7, with Tingey telling the Journal numerous infrastructural improvements and renovations ISU has made recently.

Vailas, though, announced his retirement on Aug. 9. Vailas denied any correlation between his retirement and the demands of alumnus.

“Nothing is more ridiculous,” Vailas told the Journal. “It has nothing to do with time. It’s irrelevant.”

That wasn’t the only drama in Pocatello, however.

On March 30, Idaho State football coach Mike Kramer announced his “retirement” from coaching. After going 18-50 in six seasons, Kramer left Pocatello and joined Eastern Washington University’s radio booth, as the Spokesman-Review said Kramer was still on ISU’s payroll as of late September.

With Kramer out, the Bengals announced Rob Phenicie as their 26th head coach on April 3. Phenicie was not in Pocatello when the news broke, as he committed to join Northern Iowa on March 28.

The story has yet to be completely resolved. Tingey is still employed as of Dec. 27. The Bengals went 4-7 this fall.

9. District 6 baseball makes some noise at state playoffs

Boise has long been king in baseball, but that narrative may have changed this spring.

Four District 6 teams took home state baseball trophies, including Idaho Falls which played Twin Falls in the 4A state championship. The Tigers lost 8-3, but its finish was its best since winning the 5A state title in 2002. Skyline also had a nice season, beating Skyview 8-7 to place third.

Others making a mark include Bonneville, which lost the third-place 5A game to Capital, 4-3. Teton finished fourth in the 3A consolation bracket — beating Timberlake 18-13 — and Sugar-Salem advanced to the third-place game before falling to Payette.

8. Jensen makes big debut for BYU

Rylee Jensen graduated from Skyline in 2016 as one of the best softball players to come from eastern Idaho, compiling 187 hits, 36 home runs, 148 RBIs and 139 stolen bases and batting .538 in her varsity career including 37 RBIs, 13 home runs, 33 stolen bases and batting .514 as a senior.

She has made her presence known in Provo, finishing her freshman season with 40 runs, 11 doubles, 34 RBIs and seven stolen bases in 160 at-bats while batting .338. Through BYU’s first 55 games, she was leadoff hitter in 48 of them. She was named the West Coast Conference Co-Freshman of the Year in May, and the Cougars ended the year 46-13 and No. 21 in the NCAA Division I rankings.

7. A gym and a banner for Watersprings

Within the last five years, the private school on Hitt Road has gone from being called Calvary Chapel to Watersprings and went from competing as a pilot program to being fully accredited by the Idaho High School Activities Association. The school gained a football field in 2013, but it wasn’t until this summer the Warriors had a home gym.

The Watersprings volleyball team has a banner and blue trophy to display now thanks to a 30-8 season that ended with the 1A Division II state title—the first state title of any kind for the school—in its third state volleyball appearance. The Warriors completed the feat by defeating conference foe Butte County twice on the final day of the state tournament, and they did it with a team consisting of one senior, one junior, four sophomores and four freshmen.

6. Rexburg’s Smith moves up at second NFR

Rexburg cowboy Garrett Smith competed on the world’s biggest stage for the first time in 2016, placing 10th in the bull riding average at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. The three-time National High School Finals Rodeo all-around cowboy one-upped himself big time this year, entering the NFR ranked No. 2 in the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association bull riding world rankings. Smith stayed on three bulls in 10 nights at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas—including winning night two with a score of 87—to finish eighth in the average. That finish put him at No. 5 in the final PRCA bull riding world rankings of the year with a total of $260,143.30 in winnings.

5. Ririe resurgence

Ririe’s half-point win at the 2015 2A state wrestling championships not only gave the Bulldogs their first wrestling state title, but the school’s first state title in any sport since 1996. Two years and two more state titles later, the Bulldog wrestlers had plenty of company in what was a banner year for Ririe sports. The winter brought much celebration as the basketball teams were simultaneously ranked in the state media poll for the first time since 2001 and also swept the district titles for the first time in as many years. Behind seven seniors, Ririe completed a program-best 25-2 season with its first girls basketball state title and the boys took second at the 2A state tournament in the Bulldogs’ first postseason appearance since 2004. In the fall, Ririe football finished 5-3 for its best record since 2008 and the girls cross-country team took third at state to bring home hardware for the second consecutive year and secure their best state team finish since 2003.

4. Titles and trophies galore for track and XC

Eastern Idaho ruled the track, the pits, the throwing circles and the cross-country courses in 2017. Local athletes accounted for six team trophies—including a 3A state title sweep by Sugar-Salem and a program-first girls track state title for Salmon in 2A—and 37 individual state golds. Among those golds were state records by Blackfoot’s Michelle Pratt (4A 800) and Shelley’s Paytin Drollinger (3A 1,600) and sweeps by Skyline’s Daniel Helsley (4A throwing titles), Drollinger (3A distance titles), Butte County’s Aaron Mays (1A throwing titles)

Local teams outdid themselves in the fall at Eagle Island State Park with 12 total state cross-country trophies. Among them were four state championships: Sugar-Salem boys and girls (District 6’s first team to sweep state track and cross-country in the same calendar year since 2004), Idaho Falls boys (first title since 2002) and Skyline girls (program first). Four locals also won individual state titles: Bonneville’s Stetson Moss in 5A (first local male 5A state champion since Bonneville’s Jed Barta in 1998), Sugar-Salem’s Brennan Anderson in 3A (Sugar’s first male cross-country state champion), Shelley’s Karlie Callahan in 3A (fourth individual girls state champion from Shelley in as many years) and Butte County’s Natalya Babcock in 1A (first for Butte County since Carly Hansen in 2010).

Moss also represented eastern Idaho at the national level, winning the 15-16 boys 3,000 and taking second in the 1,500 at the National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships in July in Lawrence, Kan., and placing third at Nike Cross Regionals Northwest in November in an Idaho all-classification best time of 15:17.3 to qualify for Nike Cross Nationals in Portland. District 6’s first high school runner to qualify for a national cross-country meet since Barta ran at Foot Locker Nationals in 1998, Moss ran 15:32.3 to place 17th at NXN and attain All-American status.

3. District 6 schools go back-to-back

Winning a state title is sweet. Winning it again, a year later, is even sweeter.

Four schools repeated as state champions in 2017 including Skyline (football), Bonneville (volleyball), Sugar-Salem (volleyball) and Ririe (wrestling).

After an 0-2 start to the season, Skyline rattled off nine-straight wins and eventually dominated Minico 40-14 in the 4A state championship. Behind a stout running attack, the Grizzlies were crowned 4A champions for the second-straight year.

For Bonneville and Sugar-Salem, both teams dominated on the court in 2017 with the Bees and Diggers taking home state titles for the second-straight year. How dominant were both teams? The Bees and Diggers went a combined 67-16 in 2017, losing just two sets at state.

Finally, Ririe’s wrestling program won its third consecutive state title in February by a 38.5 point margin over second-place New Plymouth. The Bulldogs had two finalists: Rustin Rinderknecht (145 pounds) and Bryhton Harris (195).

2. Classification changes, and the building of Thunder Ridge, shakes up local classification

Teams changing classifications is always a big deal. Some schools are better at the 4A level than the 5A. Some teams that dominate 3A struggle at 4A.

And with Thunder Ridge, along with changing classification alignment for 2018 announced earlier this fall by the Idaho High School Activities Association, the makeup of local sports may change drastically in 2018.

Based on total enrollment numbers with an added reform that includes free-and-reduced lunch numbers, many schools saw their classification fluctuate due to the new classification alignment.

From 2018 to 2020, District 6’s 5A schools will include Madison, Rigby and Thunder Ridge while Idaho Falls, Skyline, Hillcrest, Bonneville, Shelley and Blackfoot will compete in 4A.

1. Several local coaches, ADs call it a career

You probably know the old phrase: all good things must come to an end.

This year, eastern Idaho lost legendary coaches due to retirement: Scott Barr, Bill Hawkins and Scott Adams. Barr was Hillcrest’s first baseball coach while Hawkins’ coaching career spanned 36 years, including 29 years, 10 state title game appearances and five boys basketball state titles at Madison. Barr coached Hillcrest to a 2004 state championship and Bonneville to a state title in 1992.

Adams, now Firth athletic director, resigned in March after seven boys basketball state titles and 12 state tournament appearances in 13 seasons. Longtime Idaho Falls Bandits skipper Joldy Watts, who led Bonneville to five state baseball tournaments and a 26-0 2013 season, left to coach at Utah Valley University.

Two longtime athletic directors also retired at the end of the 2016-17 school year, Bonneville’s Dale Gardner and Hillcrest’s Barney Gardner (no relation). The two spent a combined 64 years working in District 93 as teachers, coaches and administrators.

All — in some way — made an impact in the sports community in 2017. And all will be missed.

2017 local high school state championship teams


Wrestling: Sugar-Salem, Ririe

Boys Basketball: Sugar-Salem

Girls Basketball: Ririe, Butte County


Boys Track: Sugar-Salem

Girls Track: Sugar-Salem, Salmon


Football: Skyline

Volleyball: Bonneville, Sugar-Salem, Watersprings

Boys cross-country: Idaho Falls, Sugar-Salem

Girls cross-country: Skyline, Sugar-Salem