If anything feels certain in the girls basketball realm this season, it’s that Thunder Ridge will remain competitive.
In fact, the Titans opened their season Friday with a 71-54 win over Bonneville, two days after two of their best players signed college letters of intent. Paige Clark signed with Montana volleyball, while Lauren Davenport chose Boston University over dozens of suitors.
“She can do anything and everything we want her to do so she’s definitely a special talent,” head coach Jeremy Spencer said.
Sierra John supplies defensive acumen, Aspen Caldwell will step into a starting role and Halli Smith provides what Spencer called “the muscle of the team.”
That instantly makes the Titans competitors in their district, but to hear Spencer tell it, they harbor confidence for more reasons.
“We expect to win some of these ballgames,” Spencer said. “Bonneville has been kind of the cream of the crop around here, as they should be. They’ve been an incredibly talented group. You go into those games thinking, ‘I just want to compete.’ Now, as we’re hitting our second and third year, we go into those games thinking, ‘We should be right there.’”
Speaking of Bonneville, the Bees will look vastly different this year.
For one, they return none of the nine seniors who engineered their 27-0, 4A state championship season in 2019. They also don’t return their coach, Ryan Erikson, who took another job at the end of the season. In his place is Andy Trane, a first-year varsity coach who feels confident in the play style he has diagrammed for a particularly young roster.
The team includes seniors Sydnee Hunt, Whitney Shaw, Sadie Hall and Sydnee Shurtliff, but because of the experience Bonneville had last year, these players took a relative backseat to their elders.
In other words, Trane is tasked with recreating success without any of the players who made it possible. But that’s where his coaching philosophy helps. He wants to emphasize defense and transition, getting stops and scoring before the opponent can set its defense.
“We’ve got a really quick team,” Trane said. “We’re going to spread the floor and attack teams and try to play a fast-paced game. We realize there’s a learning curve, so we’re hoping after a couple weeks, we’re in our groove.”
The same might go for Sugar-Salem.
The Diggers, fresh off a consolation win at last season’s 3A state tournament, will benefit from the return of center Mardee Fillmore. Fillmore, a senior, earned 3A All-Idaho first-team honors following her junior campaign.
“I think she’s going to have a huge season this year,” Sugar-Salem coach Crystal Dayley said. “She’s probably one of the best post players I’ve ever coached, and has gotten stronger physically. She’s going to be a huge contributor.”
Plus, Dayley said, the team returns three more posts with varsity experience: Hailey Harris, Sunny Bennion and Natalyah Nead. Add returning guard Lizzy Baldwin to the mix and Sugar-Salem looks ready to return to state for the fourth straight season.
It helps to remember, too, that the program boasts tradition. The Diggers won back-to-back 3A state titles in 2018 and 2019.
Doing it in 2020 will take more work, but Dayley and the Diggers feel up to it.
Ririe could also be a team ready to return to the state tournament.
The Bulldogs have made eight straight appearances at the 2A state tournament — winning in 2017 — but the important part is that head coach Jake Landon has only been around for the last one.
Landon, who spent five years coaching the boys team before becoming the girls team’s head coach before the 2019-20 season, attributes his club’s 0-2 run at last year’s state tournament to a relative lack of experience. Ririe had just two seniors that season.
This year, that number increases to three, but the Bulldogs return several key contributors: Seniors Paige Martinez, Dallas Sutton and Sara Boone, plus junior Breyer Newman.
“They’re an athletic group,” Landon said. “We really like to push the tempo, play tough defense. That’s kind of their M.O.”
Finally, let’s take a look at Mackay.
The Miners have momentum on their side. Last season, they made an appearance at the 1AD2 state tournament for the first time since 2015. They went 1-2, dropping the consolation game, but they’re confident because they return most of the players who got them there.
The headliners are Riley Moore and Trinity Seefried, multi-year starters who handle the guard positions for head coach Kashia Hale. Even better, they also play volleyball under Hale, so all three share a relationship that goes beyond basketball.
Even so, they have work to do.
Good thing Hale likes those two so much, plus the rest of a team that opens its season Nov. 20 in a road test against Leadore.
“Riley Moore is a very confident guard. Probably one of the best guards in eastern Idaho,” Hale said. “She’s going to bring that leadership and confidence from somebody who plays a big role on our team.”