They play each other every year, often drawing considerable crowds who are treated to intense matches with a tournament feel.
Those matches will now count toward conference records and district tournament seedings.
Bonneville’s move to 5A puts the Bees in 5A District 5-6 with powerhouse compatriot Idaho Falls. It is the first time the cross-town juggernauts have been conference opponents since 2000, which was Wendy Johnson’s first year as the head coach with the Tigers.
Both coaches are excited about the change, and a little amused.
“I thought we already were (conference foes)?” Bonneville head coach Chantal McMurtrey said with a laugh. “We’ve played them so many times. I.F. will always be tough.”
Johnson welcomes the Bees and the opportunity for continued competitive matches.
“I’m excited to have them,” Johnson said. “Bonneville adds a competitive element that we know is gonna be competitive every time we play them. It just makes everyone better when we have to play the best.”
Considering the background of both programs, it’s no surprise why past meetings have been competitive. Bonneville has won 15 state trophies and seven state championships since 1991 — the most of any District 6 volleyball team. Idaho Falls has won 11 state trophies and four state championships since 1999 and has made 15 consecutive postseason appearances, the longest active postseason streak for any District 6 school in any sport. Both schools have had club teams qualify for nationals and have produced numerous college athletes.
In those ways, the Tigers and Bees are almost mirror images.
“Bonneville’s program is really, really similar to my program,” Johnson said. “We may not win state every year but when we go, we’re second or third.”
Both teams graduated key players who contributed to last season’s state runner-up finishes. Post Register All-Area first team setter Kiarra Johnson, one of the youngest members of I.F.’s 2011 state title team, is now playing for Casper Community College in Wyoming. Post Register Player of the Year Kylee Giles and All-Area first team right side hitter Madi Harris took their talents from Bonneville to Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Ore.
Among Bonneville’s returners are Kylie Lott, Halle Hess, Haylie Keck and Kiley McMurtrey, who is back from last year’s season-ending ACL tear. Keck led the Bees in all categories last year and spent the summer playing for Pocatello Elite, which placed fifth in U-17 at the USA Volleyball Junior National Championships in July.
“In the offseason, she worked on her defense so she’s just an all-around complete player,” McMurtrey said.
Seniors Bailee Mills, Taylor Sutton and Hannah Mathews and junior Kaydre Thompson are among I.F.’s returners. Sophomore Maya Taylor, who started as a freshman, is also back.
Skyline graduated five, including standouts Nicole Breidenbach and McKenzi Lott, who are both playing college volleyball, and has a new coach in Ceanna Larson. Hillcrest graduated seven, including current Treasure Valley Community College teammates Ashtyn Durfey and Mikayla Kane and has a new coach in Matt Look. Johnson and McMurtrey said Highland has an improved group this season. Madison graduated two, including Mataia Roderick, who is now playing at Montana State-Billings, and returns senior Cassidy Sellers from a broken foot.
“She’s looking really good,” first-year Madison coach Meranda Maestas said of Sellers. “She hurts sometimes, but you wouldn’t know she had broken it.”
Two automatic berths to an eastern-Idaho hosted 5A state tournament remain at stake in 5A District 5-6. Johnson, McMurtrey and Maestas said it is anyone’s guess how the conference will unfold.
“It’s those big unknown elements right now,” Johnson said. “We still have a target on our backs.”
After playing in a loaded 4A classification for 12 years, McMurtrey said she doesn’t think 5A will be much different.
“I feel like us and Century have been the best two teams the last two years in any classification,” McMurtrey said. “We’ve actually been beating a lot of those (5A) teams. We definitely feel we can compete with anybody.”
The combining of Districts 5 and 6 two years ago put longtime powerhouses Century and Bonneville in the same conference. Both years, Century and Bonneville faced off in the 4A District 5-6 and 4A state championships.
With Bonneville’s departure for 5A, Rigby and Blackfoot are District 6’s lone 4A teams.
Century won its fourth straight 4A state title and 14th district title last season, and the Diamondbacks don’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. Four graduated from last year’s 45-5 team, but four-year starter and Oregon State commit Kayla Ellis and 6-foot-1 Henny Hearn return.
Rigby is in its second year with head coach Crystal Jensen. The Trojans graduated one athlete, Kaitlyn Hawke, from last year’s team.
The Mountain Rivers Conference has become an unpredictable conference in recent seasons, and Sugar-Salem head coach Cami Dodson and Shelley head coach Dave Cousin anticipate more of the same.
“I feel like our district is big in talent,” Dodson said. “We didn’t lose any coaches. I don’t think you can count any team in our district as a front runner.”
The Diggers and Russets are more than familiar with each other having met in the past two district championships. Sugar-Salem graduated six from last season’s team which won the 3A state third-place trophy while Shelley graduated six from last year’s 18-18 team.
Returning for the Diggers are Michone Bingham, Lacey Hamilton, Chaise Dodson, Abby Allen and Addi Gehmlich. Dodson said her team has shown great work ethic.
“They’re very unified,” Dodson said. “They are absolute work horses. They definitely don’t want this to be known as the year that they rebuild.”
Among Shelley’s returners are Myah Gillespie, Arielle Smith and Kallie Brown. Joining the Russets this year is 6-foot-3 Alexis Thompson, who played for Pocatello Elite over the summer.
“This is the strongest team I’ve had in a while,” Cousin said. “We have excellent hitters at every position.”
Graduation could lead to parity in the Nuclear Conference.
Four graduated from defending 2A state champion Firth, including Kayla Jensen, who signed with Big Bend Community College women’s basketball. The Cougars also lost Kylie McCree, who moved to Montana. Returning are Post Register All-Area first teamer Bailey Nelson, who played for Pocatello Elite over the summer, Ashley Sanders and Natalie Jolley.
Firth coach Carla Reeves said the Cougars have taken to heart something Bonneville assistant coach Dave Albiston told them at team camp.
“Dave was talking about how hard it is to do a repeat,” Reeves said. “We’re a brand new team, so we’ve got to work hard this season to get back to that point. Each one of those captains partners up with one of those young ones. It’s just been fun to watch.”
North Fremont graduated standouts Dakota Marshall (now with Yakima Community College volleyball and women’s basketball) and Alyssa Hawkes (now with Big Bend Community College women’s basketball) from a historic 2013 season that ended with a program-first postseason appearance and fourth place state trophy. Returning for the Huskies are Katie Harrigfeld, Alexa Litton, Chandler Beard, Cyrita Lee, McKinley Litton and Kaiah Bohn.
West Jefferson and Ririe both have new coaches this season and Salmon was singled out by Reeves and North Fremont coach LeAnna Trosen as the team to watch.
“They’re super scrappy on defense,” Trosen said. “Sometimes when I watch them, it seems that they have seven people playing on defense instead of six.”
Reeves said Salmon also has talented blockers. Salmon took a few wins over Firth in club season and split last weekend’s meeting at the South Fremont Icebreaker.
Mackay entered the 2013 state volleyball tournament with a 20-0 record. The Miners had graduated five from the 2012 state runner-up team, but ended 2013 with a fourth place trophy. Mackay graduated multi-sport standouts Alex Nelson and Sarah Thomas from its 22-2 team which also won its third consecutive 1A Division II District 5-6 championship.
A youthful Butte County team was District 6’s lone 1A Division I school to make it to the state tournament last year. The Pirates clinched the third and final postseason berth from Districts 4, 5 and 6 with elimination wins over Raft River and Challis.
Last season was a rebuilding year for Challis and the first time since 2005 that the Vikings did not advance to the state tournament. This season’s league realignment puts Challis, Grace and Butte County together with one state berth available.
Among the returning Vikings are Brielle Sheppeard, Tara Chamberlain and Abby Sensabaugh. Challis coach Debbie Sheppeard said she likes the potential the Vikings have.
“They’re really serious about being in top shape and really getting out and working hard every point of every single game,” she said. “We do have a core of kids that have seen a lot of playing time.”