Written by: Matt Harris
2A Nuclear Conference
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
3. North Fremont
4. West Jefferson
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Grayson Nelson, Firth
Connor Berrett, Firth
Ben Park, Firth
Michael Ure, Ririe
Jace Johnson, Ririe
Daeton Wheeler, Ririe
Garrett Hawkes, North Fremont
Blake Oberhansley, North Fremont
Chris Hansen, North Fremont
Braxton Ramirez, West Jefferson
Adam Scott, West Jefferson
Dillon Jacobs, West Jefferson
Creed Barney, Salmon
Hunter Tarklason, Salmon
Sam Petty, Salmon
The Nuclear Conference experienced a power shift in 2016-17.
The Ririe Bulldogs took the conference crown for the first time since 2004 and broke the Firth Cougars 10-year district title streak. Ririe eventually ran their way to the state championship game, where they fell to Bear Lake.
A number of seniors graduated for Ririe, including point guard Andy Bowden, shooting guard Dylan Anglesey, and post Matthew Johnson. All three players played key roles for the Bulldogs over their tenure on the team.
But Ririe still brings back plenty of firepower in their quest to return to state. Back in the fold this year is junior All-State First Team standout Michael Ure, along with senior guards Jace Johnson, Daeton Wheeler, and Ryker Parkinson. They will be joined by senior post Braxtin Allen and junior point guard Larz Sutton, whom head coach Eric Torgerson said is a good shooter who has big shoes to fill in place of Bowden.
While Ririe could pile on the points last year with their shooting, Torgerson says that the Bulldogs might be even more improved in that department this year.
“Last year’s team was the best shooting team I have ever coached, but this team shoots even better,” he said. “They have great scoring potential. All five of our starters shoot well.”
While the Bulldogs try to get their points early in the possession, Torgerson said that they want to execute sound offense when the early points are hard to come by. He added that the Bulldogs will need to rely more on their offense to get out of a jam this year.
“Defensively, we are not as stout this year,” he said. “On a cold shooting night, we might be in trouble. We MUST board well and eliminate second and third chances for opposing offenses. Besides Michael Ure, we are undersized but quick.”
While Ririe took down perennial contender Firth last season, don’t expect the Cougars to stand idly by.
Firth is looking to return to the postseason once again after securing the consolation trophy last season. But in 2017-18, the Cougars will look to make their run with a different, yet familiar face on the sidelines.
Art Polson, who previously served as an assistant coach at Firth, takes the reigns from longtime head coach Scott Adams, who now serves as the Cougars athletic director. Polson knows the program, the players, and the standard which Adams and his regime set throughout the state.
“Our X-factor to the season is the confidence of the kids. They have a great reputation to uphold and play up to the high standards established by previous state championship teams,” said Polson.
Firth will enter the year without Nuclear Conference Player of the Year Damon Folkman, who graduated alongside Kiel Chapman, Will Park, and Levi Adams. But the Cougars do bring back plenty of talent.
Returning to the court for the blue and black are senior guards Wyatt Jenkins and Remington Chapman, along with junior forwards Grayson Nelson, Tanner Killpack, and Ben Park. Also joining the Cougars this season is senior guard Conner Barrett, the reigning 1AD2 Rocky Mountain Conference Player of the Year, who transferred in from Butte County.
“We have a very high character group of young men that work hard and understand the game,” Polson said. “They are physically gifted and can run and shoot. They are great teammates to each other.”
With Polson now at the helm, some may wonder what changes will be made to the style of the team. The answer is: not much.
“We play up-tempo, fast break offense. We’re a team that played tenacious defense with man and zone presses, something which Firth has been known for.”
The Cougars are hungry to return to their perch atop the Nuclear Conference. But they will have company this year in that quest.
Along with Ririe, expect North Fremont to be in contention for a spot at state. The Huskies, led by second year head coach Bryan Miller, finished in third place in the conference last season. For his crew this year, a lot of their success could simply come to down to bodies on the court.
“For our team, it’s being healthy,” said Miller. “We are dealing with several injuries to begin this season, so trying to fit players together that can compete each night will be our goal.
Notably, junior guard and All-State Second Team selection Garrett Hawkes is still recovering from a broken ankle suffered against Salmon during football season. The Huskies also lost senior leader Brad Fabanich to graduation. But the purple and white do bring back plenty of talent.
North Fremont returns juniors Chris Hansen, Blake Oberhansley, and Bridger Lenz, who will help shoulder the additional burden until Hawkes returns.
“This is a young team, with only one senior. They have a lot of excitement and are very coachable,” Miller said.
Despite their injury issues early on, North Fremont believes they will be in the district title conversation at season’s end. They’ve also given themselves an opportunity to be battle tested before conference play begins.
“We don’t plan to overlook anyone and we have a pretty solid non-conference schedule to prepare us for conference games,” said Miller.
That conference schedules includes games against Soda Springs, Teton, Aberdeen, and Shelley, which will give the Huskies a good mix of competition before league play begins.
Another team that cannot be overlooked are the West Jefferson Panthers in Terreton. The Panthers, led by head coach Dave Hadley, went through some growing pains last season with the transition to a new coaching staff and system. This year, while there still may be some growing pains, West Jefferson could be a team in the mix.
With a year under their belts in the new system, Hadley says that the team is more prepared to play the style that they want to play.
“I think we will be able to play a lot faster than we did last year,” he said, adding that he loves the athleticism his team possesses. “I also believe we have a number of kids that can put the ball in the hoop. Last year, we were reliant on a couple of kids to score and this made us one dimensional.”
Hadley’s squad returns the services of All-Conference selections Braxton Ramirez and Dillon Jacobs, who will look to lead the Panthers by example this season. Sophomores Branson Morton, Braeden Larsen, and Landen Larsen are all expected to make an impact too.
For West Jefferson, one of their keys to success all starts on the defensive side of the ball.
“We want to be a great man to man program, but we will try to play defense extended this year. We have kids that anticipate defensively pretty well, so being able to trap and pressure the basketball will be something we hope can turn into easier offense,” said Hadley.
The coach then added that they Panthers will have to face a learning curve when it comes to realizing their offensive capabilities because of their inexperience at the varsity level.
“We need to try and spread the floor and use our athleticism by creating better driving and passing lanes. We need to become more consistent shooters,” he said. “We have to embrace the fact that there will be a lot of bumps in the road early on.”
While the road bumps will happen, it can only strengthen the team moving forward, as they hope to be playing at their peak come district tournament time.
“I believe the team that develops their role players into consistent contributors will have the upper-hand (in the conference),” said Hadley. “Having scoring depth could be a huge factor once we hit February.”
Hadley’s conference counterparts believe they will have a turn around season.
“West Jefferson will surprise people,” said Ririe’s Eric Torgerson. “I feel they are a good solid group with great energy.”
Depth and success has been tough to come by at Salmon High School in recent seasons. The Savages have won a total of five games over the last three years and have generally struggled at the 2A level since dropping down from 3A four years ago.
However, Salmon brings back some young talent which could turn the tide in their favor this season.
The orange and black will look to Creed Barney, Hunter Tarkalson, and Sam Petty to lead the way this season. It’s a core of players that could help Salmon rise from the bottom of the conference, led by second year head coach Boyd Stokes.
With the way the conference shapes up this year, most coaches believe that it’s anyone’s for the taking.
“Any team could surprise people this year,” said North Fremont’s Bryan Miller. “There are some strong underclassmen players at each school that could make a big impact this season.”
“Everyone is dangerous,” said Ririe’s Eric Torgerson.
“I don’t think there is a team that could be considered a ‘surprise’ if they do well,” said West Jefferson’s Dave Hadley. “I will be much more surprised if there is a team that is not considered a legitimate contender for our conference title.”
Long story short – every team has to show up to play every night.