A year ago, the Rigby High School girls basketball team went the distance versus No. 1 seeded Highland, prompting a second 5A District 5-6 championship game and ultimately winning 52-46 in overtime for its first district title since 2012.
This week, the top three seeds for the 5A District 5-6 tournament look considerably different than last year. Highland is No. 3, Thunder Ridge is No. 2 after being No. 3 last year and the Trojans are the No. 1 seed upon having gone undefeated in regular-season conference play for the first time since 2011, when they entered the 4A state tournament undefeated.
Having been the No. 2 seeded team that took down a No. 1 seed, the Trojans know what is possible during a district tournament.
"It’s kinda crazy how it’s flipped," said senior Ruby Murdoch, who went 11-for-16 from the free throw line in Rigby's double overtime win over Highland in district semifinals last year. "We know from last year, regular season means nothing."
Third-year Rigby head coach Troy Shippen said seeds don't mean anything in the 5A District 5-6 tournament other than determining who gets home court. Rigby's final regular season conference game on Jan. 28 was a reminder of that. Madison, seeded No. 4 for districts, pushed Rigby to overtime before the Trojans won 52-48. The Bobcats play Tuesday at Rigby to begin districts.
"I respect every team we play," Shippen said. "The higher seeds definitely have to be mentally strong. It's easier to be the underdog."
This No. 1 seeded Rigby team looks much different than last year's No. 2 seeded team. The Trojans had five seniors last year, all of whom were major contributors to Rigby's district championship and first 5A state tournament appearance. Save for seniors Murdoch and Brindy Shipper, this year's varsity roster is compromised entirely of juniors.
Brooke Donnelly, one of those juniors, was motivated to make varsity this season. She put in the work in the offseason to make that happen, playing over the summer with the Boise-based Idaho Flash team with Bonneville's Sydnee Hunt, Thunder Ridge's Lauren Davenport, Skyline's Mattie Olson and Rigby teammate Tylie Jones. She said the Trojans know they have a target on their backs as defending district champions, but she was not too nervous entering this season due to how well the juniors play together. Since eighth grade, they have had a goal of being state champions.
"Teamwork makes the dream work," Donnelly said. "I trust every single one of my teammates."
The Trojans are not the only youth laden team in 5A District 5-6 this season. As competitive as the conference was this season, Shippen anticipates there will be more battles in years to come with so many players returning.
Shippen said he was unsure of what to expect this season with so many new varsity players, but the Trojans have all worked hard.
"They're coachable girls," Shippen said. "We've had our ups and downs, but they've had a great attitude."
The biggest strength in this group with numerous varsity newcomers has been defense, Shippen said. That defense, as well as heart, define this year's youth laden team, according to Murdoch.
"We all connect and see the floor," Murdoch said. "I feel like our defense has really been what has stood out for me. Not so much the hustle, but the heart. Every single game, I feel like we put our best foot forward."
While she agreed that Rigby has 'lock down' defense, Donnelly added that the Trojans have a plethora of shooters.
"I have to say we're the best shooting team in Idaho," Donnelly said. "We can beat anyone in a shooting contest."
The 'new season' as Shippen calls it, begins with Tuesday's opening round district game. He compared districts to a chess match, not knowing what decisions other coaches will make. For Rigby, this year's unknown is the status of Jones, who is sidelined indefinitely since falling hard on her knee versus Madison on Jan. 28.
To repeat as district champions, Shippen said some luck will be required along with playing smart, limiting turnovers and making free throws.
"You have to have some things go your way," Shippen said. "It's a coaching challenge as well. Even though you've seen (these teams) a lot, people do new things. Some teams are gonna do what they've always done."
All too familiar with what it is like to be part of an upset win at districts, Murdoch said the Trojans enter this week wary of how teams have improved later in the season. Remaining level headed will be a priority.
"Every season I’ve experienced, teams go through ups and downs," Murdoch said. "The regular season is over. We know we can’t overlook any teams in our conference."
Girls basketball games for Class 5A will be Feb. 4 through Feb. 11. Higher seed hosts each game and the championship game will be Feb. 11.