"We Are One."
That is the mantra the Bonneville High School girls basketball team chose for the 2018-19 season in November, well before entering this week's 4A District 6 tournament with a 21-0 record. Those words have become much more than a motto, but a standard the Bees uphold.
Fourth-year head coach and Bonneville graduate Amy Wood has seen this in action, and junior guard Brooklyn Cunningham has lived it.
Six weeks ago, Cunningham was starting for the Bees. Nowadays, she has a brace on her right knee and is getting around on crutches.
During the first half of a nonconference game Dec. 20 at Madison, Cunningham left in noticeable pain after landing awkwardly and hearing a pop shortly after subbing in.
Wood said she remained hopeful while awaiting the official word, but her gut reaction was that it had to be serious.
"I know how tough of a kid Brooklyn is," Wood said. "To see the pain she was in, I knew right away something was wrong."
Three days later, Cunningham learned her junior season was over due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee. She said she had suspicions it was her ACL after speaking with teammate Maddie Pettingill, who suffered a second ACL tear during volleyball season, and noticing similarities to how she felt.
Within a week of her injury, Cunningham went from 'hoping and praying' to scheduling surgery. After surgery was completed Jan. 2, she was informed she had also torn her meniscus.
Cunningham estimated she started playing basketball by second grade, and sprained ankles were her worst injuries before this year. Now the extremely active junior can't walk on her right foot for another three weeks. While she said this is not what she thought her junior season was going to be, she is choosing to channel her energy and enthusiasm in another way at every practice and game.
"My role now is to be their biggest fan and cheer them on," Cunningham said. "I'll come back stronger than I've ever been and be ready to play next year."
Cunningham's injury left Wood with the task of tweaking starters on an already depleted Bonneville varsity roster. In the process, she juggled two major questions.
"How do I get these kids prepared and how do I be there in Brooklyn's heartbreak?" Wood recalled. "Brooklyn brought this, this and this. What we talked about is everyone has to elevate their game this much. Then we can fill that gap."
The result has been what Wood calls 'next man up.' Sophomores Sydnee Hunt and Mariah Jardine are among Bonneville's starters now, and Wood challenged the Bees to raise their intensity every game. Junior starter Sadie Lott said Cunningham's intensity came through lethal 3-point shooting and aggressive defense, something Lott experienced firsthand in practice.
"I would hate when I had to guard her because she's such a good defensive player," Lott said. "Brooklyn is definitely our Energizer Bunny."
Cunningham includes herself in Wood's request to raise the intensity, and it goes hand in hand with "We Are One." She said her entire athletic career has included strong friendships with teammates, but the 2018-19 Bees have taken that to another level.
"This year, there's not one person that I don't love on the team," Cunningham said. "We all love each other and believe in each other. We don't blame each other. They've been there for me when I've had really hard days. I'm just thankful that I can still be part of this team and come to practices and games."
Lott said can she pick out Cunningham's cheers during games, and she feels terrible for her not being able to play. She acknowledged moments of doubt the week Cunningham became injured, but the Bees have become more motivated in pursuit of their early-season goal of winning a state championship.
"Brooklyn's injury has made us closer," Lott said. "It's hard to explain. I've never been part of a team that has been so close like this team, especially for basketball."
Wood said Cunningham's enthusiasm from the bench 'is real and it is genuine,' and it comes from a player who embodies the selflessness behind "We Are One." She credits that selflessness as a contributing factor to Bonneville's undefeated record, but seeing the Bees apply it toward Cunningham has been especially humbling.
After Friday's practice, Cunningham joked that being on crutches has made her feel lazy and she is looking forward to rejoining the Bees for summer basketball. As Lott handed Cunningham's belongings to her and helped put her backpack on, Cunningham told her, "Sorry I'm having you do all these things for me," to which Lott smiled.
While her recovery process is taking some getting used to, Cunningham expressed gratitude for her teammates, coaches and parents for being by her side.
"I'm lucky to have all these people in my life to support me because not everyone has that," Cunningham said. "I'm not alone."
District tournament glance
When: Tuesday through Feb. 5
Where: Higher seeded team hosts each game. Championship game Feb. 5.
Seeds: 1. Highland (15-6), 2. Rigby (15-6), 3. Thunder Ridge (7-14), 4. Madison (6-15)
Teams to state: 2
Notes: The district title race is wide open this year as defending district champion Bonneville is now in 4A. Highland is the team to beat, as the Rams have yet to drop a game to a conference opponent this season. The Rams last won the district title in 2014, which was their sixth in a row, and own the longest active postseason streak for a 5A girls basketball program in eastern Idaho. Highland has reached state every year since the 2007-08 season. Rigby has played Highland the closest of any 5A District 5-6 team this season, falling to the Rams 59-52 on Nov. 20 in Pocatello and 44-36 on Jan. 9 in Rigby.
When: Monday through Feb. 7. Championship game Feb. 2.
Where: Rotating neutral venues
Seeds: 1. Bonneville (21-0), 2. Blackfoot (17-3), 3. Hillcrest (10-10), 4. Skyline (9-11), 5. Idaho Falls (2-18), 6. Shelley (1-17)
First-round byes: Bonneville, Blackfoot
Teams to state: 1.5. Second place to state play-in versus District 3 No. 3 team.
Notes: This is the first time since the 2011-12 season that Districts 5 and 6 are no longer combined in 4A. Furthermore, this means that a new champion will be crowned due to seven-time defending champion Century moving with District 5 schools to combine with District 4 in 4A. Bonneville, ranked No. 2 in the 4A state media poll behind fellow eastern Idaho undefeated team Century, is on a 23-game win streak dating back to last year's 5A state tournament. Its last district title at the 4A level was in 2010. No. 2 seeded Blackfoot is having its best season in at least a decade, with its lone losses coming to Bonneville (two) and Rigby. According to Post Register archives, Blackfoot's last girls basketball district title was in 2000. Hillcrest got the No. 3 seed in a tiebreaker over Skyline, which also had a conference record of 5-5, due to splitting regular season meetings with mutual nonconference opponent Rigby.
When: Begins Monday. Championship game Feb. 4
Where: Higher seeded team hosts each game
Seeds: 1. Sugar-Salem (19-2), 2. South Fremont (11-10), 3. Teton (8-10)
Teams to state: 1.25. Second place team must win two state play-in games to reach state.
Notes: This district tournament looks entirely different this year for several reasons. The departure of Shelley to 4A left the 3A Mountain Rivers Conference with three teams and 1.25 state bids. After years of playing at a neutral site—most recently Madison Junior High—the tournament is now a high seed hosts format. The Diggers are two-time defending district champions and winners of nine of the last 11 district titles. South Fremont’s last district title was in 2006 while Teton’s last one was in 2016, believed to be a program first. While Sugar-Salem is undefeated versus conference opponents, Teton and South Fremont have produced competitive games. Teton made 11 3-pointers and was neck-and-neck with Sugar in a 66-59 loss to the Diggers on Jan. 19, South Fremont edged Teton 47-44 on Jan. 11.
When: Begins Tuesday. Championship game Feb. 5.
Where: South Fremont High School
Seeds: 1. Ririe (17-4), 2. Firth (13-7), 3. West Jefferson (14-7), 4. North Fremont (11-10), 5. Salmon (0-18)
First-round bye: Firth
Teams to state: 2
Notes: Odd numbered years usually mean a state play-in game versus the District 5 runner-up is necessary for the 2A District 6 runner-up to reach the state tournament, but not in 2019. This season, Districts 5 and 6 get two automatic berths to the state tournament and it changes the bracket significantly. The District 5 and 6 champions will be on the same side of the bracket at state while the District 5 and 6 runners-up will be on the other side of the bracket. Ririe enters districts having matched its feat from the 2016-17 season by going undefeated in regular season conference games. The Bulldogs won a second consecutive 2A District 6 championship last year with a 33-31 win over West Jefferson in the if-necessary game, becoming the first repeat Nuclear Conference district champion since Butte County in 2007. Parity reigns among the No. 2 to No. 4 seeds. Firth and West Jefferson split their regular season meetings, as did West Jefferson and North Fremont.
CLASS 1A DIVISION I
When: Begins Thursday. Championship game Feb. 7.
Where: West Jefferson High School
Seeds: No. 1 Grace (13-8), No. 2 Butte County (9-11), 3. Challis (9-11)
Teams to state: 1
Notes: Like 4A and 3A, the latest classification cycle significantly changed this district tournament. After two years of being a two-team district, Butte County’s return to 1A Division I makes it a three-team district. Grace is two-time defending district champion, winning the if-necessary game last year to go to state. A District 6 team has not reached the 1A Division I state tournament since 2016 (Challis). The two-time defending 1A Division II state champion, Butte County last reached state as a 1A Division I team in 2013.
CLASS 1A DIVISION II
When: Monday through Feb. 7. Championship game Feb. 2.
Where: First round at high seed, then games move to Firth High School.
Seeds: 1. Sho-Ban (18-1), 2. Mackay (15-4), 3. Rockland (16-4), 4. North Gem (6-10), 5. Leadore (6-10), 6. Watersprings (3-13), 7. Grace Lutheran (2-12)
Teams to state: 1.5. Second place to state play-in.
Notes: The district title of a stacked conference will go to a new team this year as two-time defending champion Butte County is now in 1ADI. Sho-Ban, which placed third at state last year, is the No. 1 ranked team in the 1ADII state media poll. Rockland, responsible for Sho-Ban's lone loss this season, is tied for No. 5 in the media poll. Mackay, the highest seeded District 6 team, defeated every conference opponent in the regular season save for Sho-Ban, and has won 10 of its last 11 games. The last District 6 team not named Butte County to reach the 1A Division II state tournament was Mackay in 2015.