In the nine months that have passed since February, when Blackfoot’s girls basketball team won its first state title in program history, the group has gone through all manner of transitions. The players feel expectations. Head coach Raimee Odum feels more experienced. The program has some name recognition now. Much has changed.
The most important thing, though — the roster — has not.
The Broncos return their entire starting five from the team that captured the 4A state championship last season, which is why Odum, her assistants and the players all feel more confident than ever.
“We have to stay the course and keep improving,” said Odum, whose team kicks off the season Friday with a road test against Madison. “We can’t let external distractions mess with us or get in the way. We just have to stay the path. They’ve done it before, and we have to get back at the grind. They know how to do it.”
The Blackfoot group that led the charge to the promised land is all back: Seniors Praire Caldwell, Izzy Arave, Kianna Wright and Hadley Humpherys and junior Esperanza Vergara. That’s important on its own merits — who wouldn’t want their entire starting five back? — but particularly because as the season went on, the Broncos became the team Odum hoped for: A machine that could play any style, up-tempo or slow-paced, offensive assault or defensive stalemate.
It also doesn’t hurt that each of those five Broncos offers something different. Humpherys, a Post Register all-area first teamer last season, scored 12 points and grabbed 10.7 rebounds per game last season, all while shooting 52.3% from the floor. Wright, the group’s other post, tallied 11 points and six rebounds a game. Caldwell logged a team-best 14 points in last year’s state title game, Arave posted seven and Vergara netted a key 11.
“I think the girls feel confident — of course not over-confident, but there’s a lot of trust,” Odum said. “Going through a season like we did last year, they’ve developed good team chemistry, and having most of the team back, it’s a good step forward. It definitely gives us an advantage going into this season.”
There’s also this: Odum led Blackfoot to a state title last year, which was her first as the Broncos’ head coach. That statement is a tad misleading — in 2017-18, she served as a varsity assistant, and the next season, she became the JV head coach, which allowed to her develop relationships with the current players — but it does provide a window into how she and Blackfoot reached such great heights so early in her tenure.
Still, she’ll tell you she learned several things in her first season, state title or not.
“You can divide it into on the court, off the court things you have to deal with,” Odum said. “How to work with individual players and their personalities and their needs. And then the basketball, the Xs and Os. There’s some great coaches, great players. It’s important to continue to learn and be prepared for that. I definitely learned a lot of things, but then I had a great coaching staff too.”
For all the experience Blackfoot returns, though, the club is also enthusiastic about a few younger players: Sophomore Marlee Piper, juniors Whitney Christiansen, Megan Evans and Riley Layton, plus Minico transfer Kendalyn Anderson, a sophomore point guard who Odum raved about.
“That gives us a little bit of depth with ball handling,” Odum said. “They put a lot of time into their games this summer — lifting and playing on some AAU travel ball teams. It’s really neat to see how a lot of these girls have improved over the summertime. Practices have been really fun to see all these girls compete.”
Players to watch
Macy Larsen, Hillcrest senior guard
For Larsen, the nice thing about this season may be that she already has her college ball plans figured out. On Wednesday, she signed with Colorado Mesa, a Division II school in Grand Junction, Colorado. On top of that, Larsen gets the chance to build on the numbers that made her a standout last year: 18 points, 5.3 rebounds, and four assists per game, setting several school records, including points in a game (41), 3-pointers in a game (7) and consecutive free throws made (28).
Hadley Humpherys, Blackfoot senior forward
The numbers on Humpherys are one thing — 12 points, 10.7 rebounds and 52.3% shooting last year — but watching her operate is another. She hangs around the paint like she pays rent in it, controlling the glass and drawing double teams that open things up for her teammates. She commands so much attention on the block that opponents have to make a calculation: Play single coverage, which is a surefire way for Humpherys to lay in two points, or double team and run the risk of freeing up guards on the perimeter? If other teams can’t solve that problem, the Broncos may repeat this season.
Aspen Caldwell, Thunder Ridge junior guard
Thunder Ridge came agonizingly close to winning a 5A state title last year, and we would be remiss not to mention the way Caldwell helped make that possible. In her team’s first game at state, she posted 26 points. Next game: 11. State title game: 11. Just a sophomore then, Caldwell became one of the Titans’ most consistent scorers, which bodes well for her first season as an upperclassman. An all-conference second-teamer last season, Caldwell will be one of Thunder Ridge’s most important players in the club’s quest to return to state this year.
Kianna Wright, Blackfoot senior forward
It may be easy to forget, because Blackfoot is so loaded, but Wright played an irreplaceable part in her club’s state title season in February. She posted 11 points and six rebounds per game, and more importantly, she always seemed to make sound decisions, with the ball in her hands and without. Wright will pair nicely with Hadley Humpherys as Blackfoot forwards this year.
Dates to watch
Friday, Nov. 12: First games of the season
Wednesday, Dec. 8: Rigby vs. Thunder Ridge, a rehash of last year’s 5A District 5-6 championship game
Saturday, Dec. 18: Blackfoot at Skyline, a rematch of last season’s 4A District 6 title game
Tuesday, Feb. 1: District tournaments start
Feb. 17-19: State tournaments