Olympians, state championships, dynasties, firsts and droughts ended.
2018 had those accomplishments and more for sports in the Post Register’s coverage area.
Here are the top stories from 2018 as voted on by the Post Register sports staff.
1. Three local athletes make 2018 U.S. Olympic team
Four years ago, Rigby snowboarder Jessika Jenson became eastern Idaho’s first winter Olympian since skier Margo Walters McDonald in 1964 upon being named to the 2014 U.S. Olympic team in the inaugural Winter Games for slopestyle snowboarding.
This year, Jenson was one of three locals on Team USA for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Jaelin Kauf, originally of Alta, Wyo., and a frequent visitor to Grand Targhee Resort before relocating to Colorado to join the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, made Team USA in moguls skiing upon making the podium at a World Cup stop in December 2017. On January 24, Jenson made her second Olympic team upon receiving the discretionary spot to the women’s slopestyle and big air snowboarding team by coaches choice. Less than 24 hours after Jenson’s news, Victor’s Breezy Johnson was selected to the U.S. Olympic alpine ski team to compete in downhill and super G. Jenson placed fifth in women’s snowboard slopestyle finals and 11th in big air finals, Johnson placed seventh in downhill and 14th in super G and Kauf placed seventh in women’s moguls—one spot shy of advancing to finals.
2. Year of the Knights
2018 was a special year for Hillcrest with program-best finishes in boys basketball, boys soccer and football.
Led by seniors Jaxon Weatherly, Derek Marlowe, Parker Stevens and Trey Johnson, the boys basketball team placed second in the 5A state tournament upon an overtime loss to Rocky Mountain in March. Marlowe — who had a 43-point game against D93 rival Bonneville — received multiple awards (including the Post Register’s All-Area boys basketball Player of the Year honor). The Knights finished 21-6, including a 65-61 upset over Post Falls in the 5A state semifinals.
In the fall, the Hillcrest boys soccer team placed second in this year’s 4A state tournament. It was a program best finish for the Knights, and it occurred in a new classification with a new coach (Ryan Ellis). Senior Balor Reilly, like Marlowe, would win Post Register Player of the Year after helping the Knights finish 16-2-3.
Finally, after a decade-long state championship drought, the Knights’ football team won this year’s 4A state tournament — keeping the 4A state trophy in east Idaho for the third-straight season.
Also with a new head coach, Kevin Meyer, the Knights finished 12-1 thanks to a punishing rushing attack which handed yearly, 4A favorite Bishop Kelly its worst loss since 1999 during this year’s state title game in Boise.
The Knights tied and broke numerous state state championship records (total points, rushing yards, total yards) en route to a lopsided 55-21 win.
Running back Oakley Hussey, like Marlowe and Reilly, received multiple awards for the Knights' historic season including Post Register All-Area Football Player of the Year.
3. Historic fall hardware for Upper Valley schools
The North Fremont and Sugar-Salem football programs and the Madison volleyball team had special seasons in 2018.
The Huskies and the Diggers reached new heights this past fall upon ending decade-long football state title game appearance droughts.
North Fremont reached the 2A state football championship for the first time since 1989, ending the “quarterfinals curse” thanks to a senior-laden squad led by quarterback Garrett Hawkes. The Huskies eventually ran into returning 2A state champion Declo in the final (losing 41-24), but not before setting historically high marks during their 11-1 season.
Sugar-Salem brought its first football state title back to a school that has won numerous state titles in nearly every other sport, reaching the 3A state championship game for the first time since 1988. Coached by Tyler Richins, the Diggers had a committee backfield, 3A All-Idaho Player of the Year Tanner Harris and a staunch defense to end the season with 10 consecutive wins.
On October 27, Madison volleyball won its first state title since 1992. The elusive blue trophy came for the Bobcats in their fourth 5A state tournament appearance in five seasons under coach Meranda Maestas, and after third-place finishes in 2016 and 2017.
Following a thrilling, five-set semifinal win over defending 5A state runner-up Lake City on day two of the tournament, Madison fell to two-time 4A state champion Skyview 26-24, 25-21, 25-17 to prompt an if necessary title match. The Bobcats won the if necessary match 25-18, 25-23 to end the season 31-5. Madison graduates only two players, setter Chloe Miller and middle blocker and Post Register All-Area Player of the Year Lexi Garner.
4. Idaho State football beats Idaho for the first time in 23 years
The great Idaho football rivalry is back.
Thanks to the University of Idaho rejoining the Big Sky Conference, the Idaho-Idaho State football rivalry game was restored this fall.
In a packed Holt Arena, the hometown Bengals beat the Vandals thanks to a passing clinic from ISU quarterback Tanner Gueller. He threw for 492 yards on 19-of-30 passing for eight touchdowns during the rout. He also added 11 carries for 81 yards for the Bengals, who recorded 754 offensive yards and scored the most points against a Division I opponent since Holt Arena’s opening game, according to the Idaho State Journal.
Wide receiver Mikey Dean caught six passes for 156 yards and four touchdowns during the win.
Idaho State made significant strides during head coach Rob Phenicie’s second season, ending 6-5. Beating its in-state rival for the first time in 23 years was a sign of that.
5. Ririe wrestling four-peats
In February, the Ririe wrestling program did something that hadn’t been done in Idaho in 28 years: win four consecutive wrestling state titles.
While multiple state champions have won consecutive titles in previous years, Ririe became just the third program ever to four-peat, matching a precedent set by Parma (1987-1990) and Teton (1968-1974).
Under head coach Chris Harris, the Bulldogs have won the 2A title every year from 2015 to 2018. The one in February came a year after graduating seven from the 2017 title team and featured 10 freshmen. Ririe (134 points) beat out Challis (115), Declo (105) and West Jefferson (102).
“There’s no secret to it,” Ririe assistant coach Jeff Smith told the Post Register in April. “We’re not flashy, and we’re not loaded with super-great wrestlers. But we are good at doing the basics, and when everyone is getting their jobs done, it works out.”
6. East Idaho runners get national spotlight
The consensus among long time high school cross-country coaches in Idaho is that the 2018 season was one of the best--if not the best--the Gem State has ever had. The Boise girls, Eagle girls, Mountain View girls, Rocky Mountain boys, Bishop Kelly’s Nick Russell, Borah’s Nathan Green, Twin Falls’ Mattalyn Geddes, Mountain View’s Lexy Halladay and Eagle’s Ashley LaJocies all made national rankings by DyeStat.com and MileSplit.com during the season, and they were joined in those rankings by the Idaho Falls boys, Idaho Falls senior Zach Erikson and Thunder Ridge junior Stetson Moss.
The achievements were head turning this fall. Erikson, Green and Russell placed second, third and fifth, respectively, in the elite boys race of a stacked annual Bob Firman Invitational in September at Eagle Island State Park, and Idaho Falls led Idaho boys teams in that same race by placing fourth. Led by a third place individual finish by Maggie Liebich, Boise won the elite girls race, and Geddes was right behind Liebich in fourth. Erikson, Green, Russell and Moss all finished the season having run sub-15:14 times, including an Idaho No. 1 time of 15:08 by Erikson, and they along with the Boise girls, Moss, Halladay, Geddes and LaJocies reached national championship meets. Moss, Green, LaJocies and the Boise girls competed Dec. 1 at Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore., where Moss led Northwest individual boys finishers with 11th place in 15:13.1. Erikson, Russell and Halladay competed a week later at Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego, where Erikson concluded District 6’s first appearance in that race since 1999 Bonneville graduate Jed Barta with a 28th place finish in 16:14.8.
“It’s like pretty freaking awesome what we can prove to the rest of the nation,” Moss said earlier this month. “The northwest gets underappreciated, especially Idaho. It’s pretty incredible we have some awesome runners.”
“It’s really cool to be a part of,” Erikson, a BYU signee, said earlier this month. “To even be in the conversation with all these great runners around the state, it’s really awesome. I’ll definitely remember this season for probably the rest of my life.”
7. Idaho Falls wins girls swimming title in first IHSAA sponsored state meet
The 2017 season was the first for swimming as an officially sanctioned high school sport in Idaho after years of being a club sport. For Idaho Falls, the 2017 season ended with runner-up trophies for the girls and boys teams at the 4A state meet in Boise. The girls’ margin was particularly close, taking second to Bishop Kelly by two points.
This season, the Tigers got the elusive title 181-160 over Bishop Kelly. Because the title occurred at the first state swim meet sponsored by the Idaho High School Activities Association, it meant the Tigers received an Idaho-shaped blue trophy and banner. Tayla Liddle, Karlee Puetz, Kailee Puetz and Alyvia Casperson particularly helped I.F.’s cause, winning the 400-yard freestyle and 200-yard medley relays and claiming numerous individual medals. Kailee and younger sister Karlee completed an I.F. 1-2 in the 4A girls 200-yard IM ‘A’ final, and Kailee Puetz added a win in the 100-yard breaststroke ‘A’ final while Karlee took second in the 100-yard freestyle ‘A’ final. Liddle won the 200-yard freestyle ‘A’ final and the 500-yard freestyle ‘A’ final.
“The first day (the IHSAA) announced it would be a sanctioned sport in Idaho was a life changer,” Kailee Puetz said in November. “We just know we’re being represented properly. It was so, so special that we could take the win the first year it was an actual sport.”
8. Rylee Jensen continues making history for BYU softball
Rylee Jensen brought quite the impressive resume with her to Provo after graduating from Skyline: 187 hits (school record), 36 home runs (school record), 148 RBIs (school record), .538 batting average and 139 stolen bases (school record) in her four-year varsity career and 37 RBIs, .514 batting average, 13 home runs, two triples, 11 doubles, 33 stolen bases in 105 plate appearances her senior season to earn the Post Register’s 2016 All-Area Softball Player of the Year Award.
Jensen traded her sky blue for royal blue, but is continuing her tear at the collegiate level. In 2017, she received the West Coast Conference’s Co-Freshman of the Year award after leading the WCC in batting average (.452), runs scored (19) and on-base percentage (.556) through conference play. She was leadoff batter for 48 of 55 games and entered NCAA Regional play with 52 hits, 39 runs scored, 33 RBIs, six home runs, .356 batting average, .568 slugging percentage and .464 on base percentage.
Jensen landed an even bigger honor this past spring as a sophomore, leading the WCC in on base percentage (.608), runs scored (18) and walks (11) and owning a No. 2 batting average of .474 to claim WCC Player of the Year. She also made SportsCenter Top 10 in March, getting the No. 9 spot for her over the wall catch in left field that robbed a would-be walkoff home run by LSU in the bottom of the ninth in an eventual 2-1, 12-inning loss. The Cougars went 36-22 in 2018, going 1-2 in the NCAA Eugene Regional in May.
“It feels just like yesterday I got to BYU and now I’m halfway done,” Jensen said by phone in June. “It’s been a blur, but it’s been a dream.”
9. Thunder Ridge boys soccer breaks through in first season
It’s hard being a first-year sports program.
That’s what makes Thunder Ridge boys soccer so impressive: the Titans advanced to the 5A state tournament during their inaugural season with a new coach, new identity and a combination of players from Bonneville and Hillcrest.
Although the Titans went two and out at state, Thunder Ridge made an impact during its first season on the pitch by finishing 10-1-6. Those wins included a 1-0 win over Madison in the 5A District 5-6 title game, thanks to a goal from Manuel Garcia in the waning moments of the second overtime period.
“It’s surreal,” Titans coach Corey Toldson told the Post Register on Oct. 10. “I felt like this was something we could accomplish. All season I felt like we had a team that could do this and we set it out as a team goal when the season began.”
10. Butte County girls end 1A DII dominance with thrilling repeat state title
Butte County only spent two years competing in 1A Division II, but the Pirates made a lasting impression in girls basketball.
Through the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, the Pirates went 47-3, won back-to-back 1A Division II District 5-6 titles, averaged 64.58 points per game and were undefeated versus 1A Division II opponents. The end to that era came February 17 at the Ford Idaho Center in Butte County’s closest game versus a 1A DII opponent and against the tallest team the Pirates’ seven seniors had faced in their careers.
After a 15-4 first quarter lead and 23-15 halftime lead, Butte County’s advantage in February’s 1A Division II state championship game versus Genesis Prep was trimmed to 39-38 with 3:29 left. Butte County’s Shay Lambson went 2-for-2 from the foul line to put Butte County up 41-38 at 0:39, then Genesis Prep’s Rachel Schroeder made a game-tying 3 with 0:27 on the clock. Lambson drove to the basket and saw no way around Genesis Prep’s 6-4 post Bella Murekatete, so she passed to Tausha Cummins who made the game-winning jump shot from the left wing with 10 seconds left. Lambson finished with 22 points, four rebounds and two assists while Cummins had 12 points and five rebounds for Butte County, which secured its first repeat girls basketball state championship since 2007.
“’Big time players make big time plays in big time games,’” Cummins said postgame. “That’s what it took. It took all 10 of us to win back to back. We’ve been practicing all four years for this. We came in today and did not want to lose.”
Four of those 2018 seniors are now competing in college: Conlin Coburn (College of Idaho volleyball), Meg Buxton (College of Idaho track), Cummins (College of Southern Idaho volleyball) and 2018 Post Register All-Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year Lambson (College of Southern Idaho women’s basketball).