Girls basketball preview: Back on the grind

Taylor Carpenter / Post Register file Bonneville’s Kalli Harris (4) dribbles the ball while Highland’s Kia Pokibro (12) defends her during the 5A District 5-6 tournament in February. Taylor Carpenter / Post Register file

Butte County’s Meg Buxton (4) goes for a layup during the 1A Division II District 5-6 semifinal game on Feburary 2 at Firth High School. Taylor Carpenter / Post Register file

Another girls basketball season has arrived in eastern Idaho, and with it comes a crossroads for several local teams.

This will be the final year before joining new classifications for Hillcrest, Bonneville, Shelley and Butte County, the first three of which move to 4A next year while Butte County is projected to join 1A Division I. Others have begun a new era with new coaches or new additions to the varsity roster upon the graduation of a talented 2017 senior class that helped bring home four trophies—including two state titles—to District 6 in February.

Here is a classification-by-classification preview of District 6 programs.

Class 5A

Early consensus of 5A District 5-6 coaches suggests parity on the way this season.

Madison (currently 3-0) and Bonneville (2-0) were two of the last three teams standing in the final two games of last season’s 5A District 5-6 tournament and they each graduated four players. All return a considerable number of varsity players including Madison seniors Hannah Wilson (9.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.7 apg, 2.2 spg) and Brielle Hammond and Bonneville seniors Kalli Harris and Cortney McDonald and sophomore Sadie Lott.

Although Madison is defending district champion, Bonneville coach Amy Wood said no team can be overlooked.

“This is gonna be another tough conference, no question,” Wood said.

Wood describes her team as young, but with much potential. Her returning players bring experience to the team while she also has some newcomers to varsity who have been part of Bonneville’s back-to-back state championship volleyball teams.

“I am really excited about this year,” Wood said. “I’m excited about every kid. We’ve got experience from some kids, but we still have got a lot of work to do.”

Hillcrest (1-3) enters its first year under head coach Alan Sargent, who takes over the program from Cody Jackson, who was named Thunder Ridge High School athletic director earlier this year. The Knights graduated four, including Addy Kirkham and Madelyn Biddulph, and have three seniors on a 13-member varsity roster.

“We’re really quick, we’re athletic but we’re small,” Sargent said.

Longtime assistant coach and Rigby alumnus Troy Shippen is now head coach for Rigby in its second year in 5A. The Trojans (2-2) graduated five, including starting point guard Olivia Shippen (now at Central Wyoming) and 6-foot-3 forward Kaitlyn Bell (now at Idaho State), and also are without guard Halle Livingston, who moved to the Logan, Utah, area over the summer for her father Jeremy’s new job as offensive coordinator for the Ridgeline High School football team.

Class 4A

While Idaho Falls (0-4) enters its second year in 4A District 5-6 with no seniors on its varsity roster, Skyline (1-2) enters its second year at 4A having graduated one senior from last year.

Tigers coach Dallan Parker said his varsity roster features seven juniors, a sophomore and a freshman.

“There will be some learning curves with that,” Parker said.

Grizz coach Ty Keck said of his nine players to see the floor in their season opener, eight of them got quality minutes last season. The newcomer to that group of nine is freshman Lizzy Bialas, whom he said is already making her presence known.

“I think we have a group that is hungry to play some basketball and make a name for Skyline again,” Keck said.

Four games into Blackfoot’s third season under head coach Courtnie Smith, the Broncos have surpassed last season’s win total. Blackfoot, which went 1-21 last year, is currently 2-2 and returns starters Allie Cannon and Olivia Arave and has seen significant minutes and points thus far from freshman Tenleigh Smith, a state cross-country medalist.

Class 3A

Sugar-Salem (3-2) came close to pulling off arguably the biggest upset of last year’s girls basketball state tournament, pushing defending state champion Timberlake to the brink before falling 60-57 in the 3A title game on Feb. 18. The Diggers graduated Addi Gehmlich (6.11 ppg, 61 percent field goals) and Amanda Rudd (13.93 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.9 apg, 3 spg) from that sophomore and junior laden state runner-up team, and head coach Crystal Dayley said they have their eyes on finishing what they started last year.

“We kinda have a chip on our shoulder,” Dayley said. “Our goal is to get back to the Idaho Center this year. That’s definitely our goal is to get the job done this year.”

Shelley (1-3) graduated four, including Walla Walla Community College signee Bailey Stoddard, while Teton (1-3) graduated four from last year’s 22-5 3A state fourth place team, including 2017 Post Register Player of the Year Jenna Abbott (18.58 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 37.8 percent 3-point shooting). South Fremont (2-1) has several players back from last year, including athletes who were members of a program-best second place finish at 3A state volleyball in October.

“Winning begets winning,” Teton coach Shon Kunz said. “They learn to win in volleyball. They’re gonna win in basketball. This year, our conference is gonna show well at state.”

Class 2A

The two biggest constants with the 2A Nuclear Conference from year to year are unpredictability and state trophy contention. Nine of the last 12 2A girls basketball state titles have gone to a Nuclear Conference team, including five of the last six.

Ririe (2-1) graduated seven—the most seniors head coach Damien Smith said he has ever had in one year—from last year’s state championship team that finished a program best 25-2. This season provides another first for Smith—no seniors on his varsity roster. Of his returners, juniors Maddie Johnson (7.19 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.9 apg, 3.5 spg last season) and Anna Boone have the most varsity experience while sophomore Indee Williams logged her first varsity minutes last season.

“As a coach, I’ve gotta bring my best to every practice,” Smith said. “I’ve got to to teach these girls to work hard every day…help and fight and battle all the time. The players, they’re really coachable. They’ve watched this program their whole lives.”

Firth (4-0), which graduated three, has four seniors this season. Cougars coach Sharla Cook said she has been pleased with the work her team has put in thus far.

“They are unselfish and share the ball well,” Cook said.

West Jefferson (2-0) graduated four, North Fremont (3-1) graduated six and Salmon (1-2) graduated one. While Smith and Cook said they anticipate the conference to have parity as always, they pointed out West Jefferson, which has five seniors, as the team to beat.

“West J’s gonna be tough,” Smith said. “This summer when I watched West J, they looked really good.”

Class 1A

Butte County has not won back-to-back girls basketball state titles since 2006 and 2007, but the potential for a repeat is real this year.

The Pirates graduated two from last year’s 24-0 1A Division II state champion team that finished the season averaging 67.3 points per game, and although the first practice was delayed due to state volleyball, coach Carla Hansen said her players are quickly getting back into basketball mode. The Pirates begin the season Tuesday at home versus Carey.

“They are remembering all their offenses and plays,” Hansen said. “I can call something out and they remember it.”

First-year Mackay coach Kashia Hale has no seniors or juniors on her varsity roster this year. All eight players for the Miners (0-2) are freshmen and sophomores. Watersprings (1-1) returns all but one player from last year’s team which made its deepest district tournament run in its five-year history last season, falling to Rockland in the second place game. Warriors coach John Yadon said he returns most of his starters from last year, and he anticipates his team to be in the mix with the powerhouses in a historically competitive conference.

“Hopefully, we’ll be right there with them,” Yadon said. “You can’t go in any night and not show up to play.”

In 1A Division I, Challis (2-1) enters its final year as a member of a two-team conference with Grace having graduated two seniors from last year’s 15-9 team. Butte County will be joining 1A Division I starting in 2018-19.