Written by: Matt Harris
4A District 5-6 Conference
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
T-4. Idaho Falls
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Chinma Njoku, Century
Olivia Holt, Century
Destiny Harris, Pocatello
Allie Cannon, Blackfoot
Shaylee Priestly, Preston
Sydnee Selley, Preston
Erin Jenkins, Skyline
Kennedy Burton, Idaho Falls
The 4A District 5-6 Conference will look to return to the top of the 4A pedestal for one final time before going their separate ways next season. In 2018, District 5 will join the District 4 Great Basin Conference while District 6 will become the High Country Conference.
In the meantime, however, the conference will look to regain the blue trophy which Century earned in 2015 and 2016, before going two-and-out at state last season. The Diamondbacks and head coach Chris Shuler bring back a number of key players, including forward Chinma Njoku and guards Adriene Pavek, Olivia Holt, and Emma Fackerell. Njoku is looked upon by opposing coaches as the player to watch on Century and will certainly command a lot of attention down low.
Century will have to replace the productivity of the now-departed Katie Hiller, McKayla Jensen, Emily Packham, and Gabi Gonzalez. Despite having to fill those voids, the Diamondbacks are a preseason favorite to return to the state tournament once again.
Across the Gate City, the Pocatello Indians and head coach Brock Gunter will look to continue their upward swing after a good finish to the 2016-17 season. After starting 0-6, Pocatello finished the season going 12-7 and just missing out on the state tournament, falling to Preston in the district second place game.
The Indians will be led by Destiny Harris, who will look to lead Pocatello back to the state tournament for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign.
Further south, the Preston Indians come into the new year as the preseason favorite to win the conference. For head coach Kimber Hall and his crew, they bring back a number of seniors, many of whom played key roles last year. Sydnee Selley and Shaylee Priestly will look to lead a guard line which also includes Kallie Christensen, McKinley Petterborg, and Leah Erickson, along with forward Harley Carlisle.
That group will have to pick up the scoring load left behind by graduated players Morgan Hall, Josie Haslam, and Paige Moser. For Preston, who took third place at state last February, the key is continuity.
In District 6, the Blackfoot Broncos look to have a resurgent year under third-year head coach Courtnie Smith. The black and green bring back forwards Allie Cannon and Olive Arave, along with guards Sierra Sanchez and Jordan Haxby.
“We finally have experience, girls that have played and understand the game,” said Smith. “They have great team chemistry.”
Another player to watch for Blackfoot is freshman TenLeigh Smith, who is already being noticed by opposing coaches.
“She is a fantastic ball player,” said Skyline head coach Ty Keck, who also called Allie Cannon “a pure scorer”. “Blackfoot as a whole returns almost their entire team and added some depth. They should be stronger.”
“TenLeigh will bring us great ball handling and passing to the team along with consistent scoring,” said Smith.
The Broncos are hoping to avoid the injury bug this season and play consistent basketball in order to achieve their first winning season in many years.
Skyline is hoping for the same result this year. The Grizzlies are in search of their first winning season since 2012-13, when they went 17-6. The blue and white didn’t lose any key players last year, according to head coach Ty Keck, and bring back a number of players who hope to lift the Grizz this season.
Among those players are guards Erin Jenkins, Payton Bird, Kalli Miller, and Macy Olson. The trio of Halli Olson, Brittney Dennert, and Annalise Cheret all return to the Skyline front court and will be joined by freshman Lizzie Bialas.
All in all, this will be a different looking Skyline team this season.
“I’m looking forward to a much more experienced and mature team that is hungry to compete,” said Keck. “I am excited to see the work the girls have put in begin to translate to their success.”
While Keck hopes that his team can play consistently across the board and get more productivity from the bench, he knows that his team has a few advantages on the court.
“We have a lot of height which gives us some mismatch abilities especially with a forward like Halli, who can post you up or play on the wing as well,” he said, who added that he wants his team to apply a lot of pressure on opposing squads.
Expect Erin Jenkins to be a leader for Skyline this season. Keck noted that Jenkins “is a strong scorer with a good nose for the basket.”
While Skyline’s program is on the rise, so is the program of their cross-town rival, Idaho Falls.
After a 7-18 season in 2016-17, Idaho Falls will look to turn some heads this season with a relatively young cast of characters.
“Our team is still young and we have no seniors,” said head coach Dallan Parker. “But I’m excited to watch the girls continue to improve and become more comfortable at the varsity level and respond to their increased roles.”
Back in the fold this season is the guard duo of Madalyn and Kennedy Burton, along with Olivia Hillam on the wing and Kennady Goddard at post. The trio of Emma Williams, Morgan Tucker, and Cassidy Sanders will be looked upon to help out on the guard line, with Amber Brower and Kaitlin Moss playing bigger roles down low on the block.
Idaho Falls will have to replace the scoring of now-graduated Jaidyn Hansen and the athleticism of Maya Taylor, who now plays college volleyball at Saint Louis University. But the Tigers believe they can make up for those losses by increasing their pace of play.
“We shoot the ball pretty well and want to get out and run if possible,” said Parker. “We are going to need to improve on our ability to rebound however.”
Parker did add that he feels the conference is quite a bit more open than in previous seasons.
“I think that each team in the conference has the ability to be successful. It should be a fun, competitive season.”