BLACKFOOT – The doors to a new sports season were opened on Monday, when the official practices for girls’ basketball began the newest prep sports season in the state.
Sure, you might say, but football is still in the prime part of the season with the state playoffs in only the second week of play.
However, volleyball has announced its state champions, soccer, both boys and girls, has been over for a couple of weeks and the state cross country championships were held in Pocatello last Saturday.
There will be a lot of action taking place around Idaho and especially in eastern Idaho where the winters are governed by the big basketball game of the week. This is especially true in Bingham County, where the rich basketball tradition will continue again this year with high hopes of a state championship headed back to the local schools.
In some cases, things will be a lot like they were a year ago. Blackfoot will be a contender for the High Country Conference with three starters returning off a 20-game winning season; Snake River will be its usual conference winning team over Marsh Valley and American Falls, Sho-Ban returns four of the five starters from a team that won 22 games and made an impact on the state tournament for the second year in a row; Firth will return a strong nucleus in a suddenly depleted Nuclear Conference that has lost a couple of coaches and some all-stars from West Jefferson and Ririe. It would be a stretch to think that Aberdeen or Shelley will be competitive, but basketball is a sport where the addition of one strong player can make all the difference in the world.
There are a couple of coaching changes in Bingham County of note, one at Sho-Ban, where Andrew Baldwin resigned to pursue other occupational interests, following a pair of 20-win seasons and a big splash at the state tournament. He basically transformed the girls’ program at Fort Hall, but with four starters returning, they should be in good hands with new coach Justin Dance, who has been an assistant under Baldwin for a couple of years.
The other new coach is Chris Fielding at Shelley, who takes over the program after serving an apprenticeship under seven-time title winning coach Scott Adams at Firth. He should bring some new excitement with a different style of play and an influx of athletes ready for something new.
Looking at the different conferences in the area we can get a brief view of how different teams will be able to perform this season and quite possibly an early look at how successful these teams will be. This will not be an in-depth view of the season, rather a quick synopsis of things around Bingham County.
High Country Conference – 4A Classification Blackfoot High School
Blackfoot had an exceptional year in 2018-19. They battled with Bonneville for the top spot in the conference going into the district tournament and both teams had first round byes in the six-team conference. Both teams also lost those first round games, losing their advantage before they even had a chance to utilize them to their own advantage.
Blackfoot eventually fought its way into a state playoff game which they won to secure a spot at the state tournament and found themselves matched up against the top team in the state in Century and you all know the rest of that story.
Blackfoot returns three starters from that state tournament qualifying team in post player Hadlee Humpherys who had a huge impact on the team, and once she started getting some playing time, emerged as a potential 20-point, 10-rebound player as a freshman; point guard Tenleigh Smith who has been a two-year starter and is only a junior this season; and now senior wing Kristen Thomas, who seems to do all the little things and has a sweet jump shot from about 15 feet out. She probably doesn’t shoot enough, but the weapon is there nonetheless.
Graduating were several players who made such contributions that they will be sorely missed until replacements can be found.
Leading scorer Allie Cannon, clutch wing player Olivia Arave who did all the little things that make a team a winner, and substitute Macie McBride are all gone, Cannon and Arave on to the next level where they will be able to continue playing.
The tough thing for coach Courtnie Smith to do at this point in time may be to find the points that she has lost from Cannon and Arave. That is a lot of points to replace in a lineup, no matter who is left behind.
There will be a new influx of players from the JV squad and of course the new freshmen coming in, but there will be some growing pains and some molding and meshing to do in order to get things back to where they were at the end of the season a year ago.
This team could be just about any kind of a team when the season finally gets underway on Nov. 23 against the Burley Bobcats in a home contest.
There will be an opportunity to see the Broncos in action on Nov. 12 at the Snake River Jamboree and then you can make up your minds for yourself as to how good this team might be.
Shelley High School
Shelley is coming off a season where they won a single game during the season. This will be their second straight year in the High Country Conference and competing against 4A competition and that prompted a move in a new direction. In comes a new head coach in Chris Fielding. Fielding will have a huge task ahead of him as he tries to mold a new kind of basketball team where there has been very little height to work with and not much of a feeder program. A new program will bring a lot of excitement, where there probably hasn’t been a lot to cheer for.
The good news is that Fielding will have point guard Kassidy Arzola to build around and that always helps. A leader will help with the transition to a winning program, but make no bones about it, Fielding will have his work cut out for him, especially early on in the season as he tries to get his style of offense and defense installed and the players to make things work for him in those offenses and defenses with a very tough schedule to work through.
South East Idaho Conference, 3A division Snake River High School
The Snake River Lady Panthers have been to the state 3A championships under coach Jeff Steadman the past two years and have brought home trophies each time.
The team will be built around Steadman’s daughter Josee this year, much like it has been the past two seasons. This year could be a bit different just because there is some more height on the team and players who can take some of the load off of Steadman as far as scoring and rebounding go.
The Lady Panthers will miss Abbie Morgan, who had gone on to play volleyball at the next level, but in will step a couple of players with the height and athleticism to make an impact with scoring and rebounding, which may lead to having the six-foot Steadman to roam the outside as the point guard. This will facilitate Steadman’s good outside shooting instincts and draw the inside defense outside to try and cover her. That will open up the inside for players like Jordyn Gilbert and Olivia Kracl to hit their mid-range jumpers, play defense and work the boards.
From all reports that have come this way, the Lady Panthers have looked very good in summer ball and we will get a view of how good on Nov. 12 at the Jamboree hosted by the Panthers. This team may be a bit ahead of the rest of the Bingham County teams, but there are always some new twists and you never know exactly who will make it through the try-out process and get into the flow of play the quickest. It could be a very interesting and exciting team for the Lady Panthers this season.
Nuclear Conference, 2A Firth High School
Gone is Abbie Schiess and the starting point guard for the Lady Cougars due to graduation. Back will be a host of players who gained valuable playing time a year ago, led by forward Hailey Gee who is deadly from 12 feet in and can rebound with the best in the conference.
Sharla Cook will be back at the helm of the team and the state championship coach is excited at the prospects that have turned out for the team. Her toughest part of the year will be separating the team into the varsity, JV and C team and there is talent from the top to the bottom.
Look for there to be an influx of players moving into basketball from the newly crowned volleyball state champions and that talent is always welcomed.
Offense may be a problem early on as the team works to replace the points scored by Schiess and the biggest job will be getting enough scoring to win the games. The guess here is that Cook will find the scoring, as she always does, and will rely on her defense to keep the Lady Cougars in games early on.
That has been the pattern in years past and will most likely be the same here.
South East Idaho Conference, 2A division
Aberdeen High School
The Tigers were in a rebuilding mode a year ago and when that happens, it often leads to inconsistent play and that was just the case.
This year’s team, with last year’s experience added into the players and team, will only help. Whether that will translate into a conference championship with the likes of Bear Lake, Soda Springs, Malad and West Side is a totally different question.
The Tigers will be better, how much better remains to be seen.
One thing is for sure, sophomore Yasmin Ortiz is a player you will want to see play. She is an athlete that can play just about any sport and she set the world on fire a year ago as a freshman. She made an impact in volleyball, basketball and in track. She should make a bigger impact this season.
Rocky Mountain Conference, 1A Div II
Sho-Ban High School
The Lady Chiefs have gotten the attention of the state of Idaho and of the Fort Hall community. There is no doubt about it.
They set a record of 20 wins two years ago, then broke their own record last year. They have been to the state tournament two years in a row and they return four starters from last year’s team. That is a lot, especially when you consider how good those four players are. Harley Jackson was the leading scorer on the team and set three records at the state tournament a year ago. Reesha Pokibro can do it all, and had a number of quadruple-doubles on the season (double figures in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals). She is very capable of scoring 20 points and grabbing 20 rebounds and did so on several occasions. The Lady Chiefs should be deeper and stronger this year, but will have a new head coach in Dance, after a couple of years as the assistant to Baldwin. He shouldn’t have to do much more than just keeping the ball rolling for the Lady Chiefs.
How far the team goes this year will be in the hands of the players as they can be just as good as they want to be.