The 4A District 6 girls basketball tournament drew much attention inside and outside of the district when the top two seeds went down in a 24-hour span.
Hillcrest, which entered districts as the No. 3 seed, was responsible for one of those outcomes, defeating No. 2 seed Blackfoot 38-34 on Jan. 30. Three days later, the Knights defeated No. 4 seed Skyline 45-37 to win the 4A District 6 title and reach the state tournament for the first time since 2016.
The Knights said it then and they said it again after Tuesday’s practice: Nobody expected them to win districts and go to state except themselves. Second-year head coach Alan Sargent said early in the season that he anticipated the Knights to be where they are now.
“We were the shock factor,” Sargent said. “We were one of the few people that thought we’d get here. When you look at our stats and our losses, we are matching or are just ahead of our opponents in every category except points scored. We knew if we could score more points, we could beat anyone.”
The Knights have lived up to his intuition even as the starting lineup changed. When starters Livia Wood and Macy Speirs went down with injuries, freshman Macey Larsen and junior Jaycee Weathermon filled their vacancies. They have since earned high praise from Sargent and his six seniors.
“My freshman year was a lot different,” said senior Maycee Stenquist, the lone freshman called up to the 2016 Hillcrest team which ended a program best 23-3 season at the 5A state tournament. “I can’t imagine being Macey Larsen and having a starting position as a freshman. I’m super proud of her. She’s worked her butt off this season. And Jaycee, she’s really stepped up as a junior.”
Wood, who tore her deltoid ligament before injuring two other ligaments this season, shared Stenquist’s observations. She said she and her fellow upperclassmen have encouraged Larsen and Weathermon since they took on starting responsibilities, and they’ve seen them become more confident.
“I talk to them before games and tell them, ‘You guys can do this. You guys can be just as good as we are. You just have to be confident in yourself,’” Wood said. “By all of us telling them that they’re better than they think and gaining more confidence, it has really helped them.”
Emphasizing execution of the little things can also be credited for the Knights’ return to state, Sargent said. He singled out better communication on the court, boxing out and getting more defensive rebounds as the biggest areas of improvement for the Knights since December. He added that the 3-2 zone they unveiled in their district win over Blackfoot was successful in slowing down the Broncos, and they may use it again.
“You have to be creative when you’re tiny,” Sargent said with a laugh. “Those are all things we can control. And effort.”
Then Hillcrest’s JV coach, Sargent traveled with the Knights to the 2016 5A state tournament. He said he feels more pressure as the head coach of a district champion team going to state, and he said the Knights plan to watch today’s game between undefeated Century and Blackfoot before facing an explosive Minico team at 8 p.m. at Timberline High School.
Like Stenquist, Sargent acknowledged the bittersweet reality of Hillcrest’s seniors reaching their final high school games. They include his daughter, Ashlyn, the second daughter he has coached at Hillcrest, and he described the seniors as a tight knit, humorous group that genuinely enjoys being together.
“It makes it easy to play with someone when you hang out with them off the court or after the game,” Sargent said. “It’s been a great opportunity to coach them all the way through.”
Stenquist said she remembers a lot of pressure surrounding Hillcrest’s state-media poll ranked team at state as a freshman. She added that she couldn’t believe Tuesday was her final practice in Hillcrest’s gym, recalling the 2016 seniors telling her as a freshman how quickly high school goes by. She and her fellow seniors began playing sports together in seventh grade, and she said she has especially cherished the last two years when they joined her on varsity.
“I never thought that it would come as fast as it did,” Stenquist said. “We talk about everything. We spend two hours at practice then we spend another four hours hanging out. I just feel like we’ve gotten a lot closer.”
Upon returning from state, Wood will be in a boot and using crutches for six weeks per doctor’s orders. She said she chose to keep playing because this is her senior season, and adrenaline keeps her from thinking about any pain on the court. She is taking that same approach into this weekend, an opportunity Hillcrest’s seniors didn’t want to end their careers without.
“All six seniors talked about how much we wanted this and we didn’t want this season to end,” Wood said. “It’s all up to us keeping up our motivation.”
Six other District 6 teams are competing for hardware this weekend. Here is a look at how they got here:
State seed: District 5-6 champ
Coach: Troy Shippen, second season
Players to watch: P Mateya Mobley, Sr.; G Ruby Murdoch, Jr.; W Summer Dabell, Sr.; P Tylie Jones, Soph.
Notes: First postseason appearance since 2016 and first appearance as a 5A school … District champions for the first time since 2012, when the Trojans were a 4A school … Responsible for Highland’s lone losses to a 5A District 5-6 opponent this season, both coming in the district tournament and both games went to overtime … Defeated Bishop Kelly, Kimberly and Jerome to win the Jerry Callen Memorial Tournament in Jerome in December … One of three teams thus far to defeat No. 4 state media poll ranked 4A team Blackfoot ... Last state trophy came in 2012 (4A state runner-up).
State seed: Won District 3-6 state play-in game
Coach: Courtnie Smith, fourth season
Players to watch: G Allie Cannon, Sr.; F Olivia Arave, Sr.; G Tenleigh Smith, Soph.; P Hadley Humpherys, Fr.
Notes: First postseason appearance since 2005 (took runner-up to Bonneville) ... This is the first time Blackfoot has had a single-digit number in the loss column since 2007 (18-5) ... Won a combined four games between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons before going 13-10 last season for its first winning record since 2007.
State seed: District 6 champ
Coach: Crystal Dayley, seventh season
Players to watch: G Macie Knapp, Sr.; G Madi Fillmore, Sr.; G Lindsey Larson, Sr.; F Sydney Bradshaw, Sr.
Notes: Defending 3A state champion ... 11th postseason appearance in 13 seasons, sixth appearance under Dayley … lone losses this season are to undefeated defending 2A state champion Soda Springs … Six players are averaging at least seven points, led by Knapp (15.18) and Madi Fillmore (10.95) … All three Fillmores on the varsity roster are sisters … Highest scoring team Dayley said she has ever coached (averaging 60 points per game).
State seed: Won District 5-6 regional game and District 4-6 state play-in
Coach: Shon Kunz, sixth season
Players to watch: G Waklee Kunz, Jr.; P Cambrie Streit, Jr.; P Brooke Kaufman, Jr.; G Janie Nelson, Sr.
Notes: Returns to state for first time since 2017, which ended with the 3A state consolation trophy … Went winless versus 3A District 6 opponents until the district tournament with two wins over South Fremont three days apart …Very young team with only two seniors (Nelson and Halle Lasson) … All but three of its losses were to teams currently ranked or previously ranked in the state media poll.
State seed: District 6 champ
Coach: Damien Smith, 11th season
Players to watch: G Maddie Johnson, Sr.; G Indee Williams, Jr.; W Anna Boone, Sr.; G Cassidy Parkinson, Sr.
Notes: Seventh consecutive postseason appearance (all under Smith) …Graduated no one from last year’s 22-5 state runner-up team … Except for North Summit (Utah), all of Ririe’s losses are to teams currently or previously ranked in the Idaho state media poll … Johnson leads District 6 in assists (3.2) and blocks (1.7) per game and scored 35 points in a regular season win over Firth…Williams (11.4 points per game) is just ahead of Johnson (11.3 points per game) as Ririe’s leading scorer … Eden Griffith and Anna Boone lead District 6 in 3-point shooting with percentages of 50 percent and 37.8 percent, respectively.
WEST JEFFERSON PANTHERS
State seed: District 6 Runner-Up
Coach: Jalena Dixon, third season
Players to watch: G Jordi Holdaway, Sr.; G Makiah Rogers, Sr.; P Saige Moss, Jr.; P Taneal Wright, Sr.
Notes: Third postseason appearance in four seasons (second under Dixon) …graduated five from last year’s 2A state consolation trophy winning team …Despite missing three games with an injured knee, Holdaway led District 6 in scoring for much of the season (15.26 ppg), leads the district in steals (4.4 per game) and is top five in rebounds (7.8 rpg), assists (2.8 apg) and 3-point shooting (35 percent) … Holdaway is also the lone remaining member of the 2016 state championship team ... Rogers has become a major threat since mid-January, moving into top-10 in District 6 for 3-point shooting (31.1 percent).