Written by: Matt Harris
1AD2 Rocky Mountain Conference
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
2. Butte County
4. North Gem
5. Clark County
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Bridger Hansen, Butte County
Brett Waymire, Butte County
Spencer Permann, Rockland
Rodney Parrish, Rockland
Bronx Holbrook, North Gem
Nathan Christensen, North Gem
Ty Parton, Clark County
Kobe Korrell, Clark County
Caleb Green, Mackay
Jacoda Whitworth, Mackay
Colton Baldwin, Sho-Ban
Tuff Medicine Top, Sho-Ban
Kyson Poletti, Watersprings
Landon Bowman, Watersprings
The Rocky Mountain Conference sent two teams to the state tournament in Caldwell last year. Of those two, only Rockland was able to emerge with some hardware as they took home the third-place trophy.
This season, Rockland hopes to be able to build on what they accomplished last year, even with a few new faces in blue and red.
Shae Neal takes the reigns of the program this season and hopes to improve on the 18-7 record the Bulldogs posted last year. Rockland has never won a state championship, but they bring back some key pieces who can potentially help them to achieve that goal.
All-State Second Team selection Spencer Permann returns along with All-Conference First Team selection Rodney Parris. Look for these two to lead the way for the Bulldogs this season. They are joined by seniors Cooper Bradshaw, Kade Parrish, and Michael McClanahan, along with juniors Landon Farr, Pratt Matthews, Owen McLean and Caleb Norwood.
It’s a good nucleus of talent for Neal to work with in his first season as the head coach in Rockland.
“It will be fun to see this team work together. They have been playing sports together for a long time and have created a bond with each other,” said Neal.
That continuity and chemistry that is in place will be of great benefit to Rockland coming right out of the gate. Their first game of the season is against conference-foe and rival, North Gem.
“It’s important that we start the season off on the right foot,” Neal said.
With the players that the Bulldogs have in place, Neal hopes to create mismatches up and down the floor.
“Spencer is a great asset to us inside the paint and Rodney is great at controlling the offense and slashing to the basket. The team gets after it on defense and is very patient on offense. It will be exciting to see the juniors step up and fill the roles of the seniors that graduated.”
Among those that graduated are Paxton Boyer and Ridge Farr. Neal called Boyer a “well-rounded guard that caused many problems because of his length and quickness”, while he also heaped praise on the 6’4” Farr, saying that he was “very good at knocking down important shots and finding weaknesses in the defense”.
Neal is preaching the simplicity of fundamentals to his team – he says it’s the key to their success.
“It’s a new system this year but the athletes are absorbing it very well so far. I preach the basics. If we can do the basics every time down the court, we will have a successful season,” he said, adding that second chance opportunities and patience within their set offense will also be key in their success.
Rockland’s first opponent, North Gem, will look to improve on their 13-9 record from a year ago, but will do so without the services of the now-departed Walker Davids and Bridger Jensen, both of whom were All-Conference selections last season.
But for head coach Kevin McClain, the Cowboys still have talent in the pipeline as they will look to Bronx Holbrook and Nathan Christensen for leadership and to take on a bigger load this year. The Cowboys have not won a state title since 1995, but Mackay’s Kelvin Krosch says that North Gem could be a team to surprise this season.
“They return Holbrook who is fairly athletic and can get to the hoop when he wants to,” he said.
Sho-Ban hasn’t won a state title in their school’s history, but hope to get back to the state tournament this season for the first time since 2013. They graduated their lone All-Conference selection, John Osborne, but bring back good talent in Colton Baldwin and Tuff Medicine Top.
TeeJay Appenay and Layne Sequints are also back for the Chiefs, but Sho-Ban will have a lot of freshman on the floor this year – something that cause a large learning curve for head coach Justin Dance’s crew.
Heading into District 6, the team that joined Rockland at state last season was Butte County. The Pirates, who always seem to be contenders, bring back a good amount of talent this year.
Returning to the court are guards Brett Waymire, Dylan Bears, Grant Waddoups-Hamm, Bridger Hansen, and Keyan Cummins. On the front line, Kalib Hawley, Brady McAffee, Seth Hansen, and Ty Twitchell will look to anchor the block.
For head coach Jake Hansen, the Pirates are helping shorten their learning curve by being coachable.
“I’m most excited about this team’s attitude. They are a great bunch of kids that are willing to work hard and do anything you ask,” Hansen said.
The Pirates depth will help them as the adjust to the losses of the now-graduated Landen Gamett and Jesse McAlevy along with reigning Rocky Mountain Conference Player of the Year Conner Barrett, who transferred to Firth.
Hansen said he wants his team to play up-tempo, but needs to be able to hit the freebies.
“We like to push the ball,” he said, “and we need to make more free throws.”
The Pirates are a team to watch this season, according to Clark County head coach Kaleb May.
“People expect Butte to be successful, yet they always play better than expected,” he said.
A little further into the Lost River Valley, the Mackay Miners are hoping that they can get back to state tournament for the first time since 2015.
Led by head coach Kelvin Krosch, the Miners bring back a wealth of young talent that has gained a ton of valuable experience at the varsity level. With the team being very young over the last couple of years (and not having graduated anyone from last year’s team), the lumps Mackay has taken could pay off with a trip to the Treasure Valley.
Returning for Krosch’s Miners is senior Kobe Marinack, along with juniors Wes Winter, Chris Ivie, Riley Johnson, Caleb Green, and Dallin Green. Sophomores Derek Peterson, Jacoda Whitworth, and Nolan Moorman also return.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do with all the experience we gained from last year,” said Krosch. “We started three freshmen and two sophomores last year and we peaked at the right time last year due to the young kids sticking to the system and the process we implemented last year. This team is very young still, but very hungry!”
Krosch said that the Miners defense was their strength as they want to make their opponents grind it out for every basket. On offense, he says that they can’t just rely on half court sets this year.
“We need to improve on our transition offense and score easier buckets,” he said, adding that a key to their season will be their ability to finish games.
“We need to be able to close out and seal the game when we are in a tight game late in the fourth quarter.”
With the depth and experience the Miners return, many coaches in the conference agree that Mackay is a team on the rise.
“Mackay has improved a lot in the last year or two. They are only getting better,” said Watersprings’ Jesse Adams.
Butte County’s Jake Hansen added, “They ended the season last year beating teams that had beat them earlier in the season. All of their players are returning too.”
“I think this could be a break out year for Mackay,” said Rockland’s Shae Neal. “They have some great athletes that really have the determination to compete and win.”
Heading over to Dubois, the Clark County Bobcats hope to improve their 5-11 record from last year and bring back a ton of senior experience to potentially make it happen.
Back on the court for the Bobcats are seniors Kobe Korrell, Ty Parton, Brayson Bramwell, Matthew Murdock, Henry Palmer, Cheque Gonzalez, and Carter Eddins. They are joined by junior Antonio Hernandez and freshman Brian Murdock.
For new head coach Kaleb May, the built-in team cohesion already exhibited by the Bobcats is a crucial step towards success in the Rocky Mountain Conference this season.
“I’m most excited about the chemistry this team has,” he said. “A lot of the boys have played together since fifth grade. Their teamwork and selflessness is really exciting.”
Clark County graduated one of their most impactful players from last season, Payton Shenton, and will hope that the chemistry they already possess can help them offset his loss.
“We play well in a fast paced offense, but we need to improve in our overall fundamentals,” May said. “Our defense is solid but could use better communication.”
One of the big factors in their potential success this season will be consistency, according to May.
“I think whatever team shows up to every game with their best efforts will win the conference this year.”
Clark County is seeking its second state tournament appearance in three years.
Traveling southward down I-15, the Watersprings Warriors in Idaho Falls are seeking their first state tournament appearance ever and are looking to build on a tough 1-15 season from a year ago.
The Warriors return senior Kyson Poletti, along with juniors Hunter Rogers, Cody Shurte, Michael Buell, and Landon Bowman. Sophomores Parker Simmons and Matthew Davis are also back for Watersprings, with freshmen Robert Canfield and Matt Almgren.
Expect Poletti and Bowman to lead the way for the Warriors as they battle each night. Head coach Jesse Adams says that offseason work is paying off.
“We have built a great chemistry throughout the offseason,” he said. “Players are excited to play together and are ready to improve together. We need to continue to work on all of our fundamentals.”
The key for Watersprings comes from the defensive side of the ball.
“We need to play great defense, win the rebounding battle, and play as team,” Adams said.
Whichever team emerges from the conference with the state tournament berths will have earned it. The Rocky Mountain Conference is on the rise this year and the state better take notice.