Written by: Matt Harris
3A District 5 South East Idaho Conference
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
1. Snake River
2. Marsh Valley
3. American Falls
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Madison Udy, American Falls
Jessi Smith, American Falls
Halle Romero, American Falls
Kelsey Higginson, Snake River
Ashtyn Martin, Snake River
Josee Steadman, Snake River
Taya Batts, Marsh Valley
Valerie Vorwaller, Marsh Valley
Macy Redford, Marsh Valley
The battle for the lone berth to last year’s state tournament from the 3A South East Idaho Conference went the distance as Marsh Valley and Snake River fought down to the wire.
In the end, after Snake River led with one minute remaining in the first district title game, Marsh Valley recovered, won the game and forced the ‘if necessary’ game, where they then took down the Panthers again to head back to state for the third straight year.
If Marsh Valley wants to get back to state this year, they will have to find a stabilizing influence at point guard, after four-year varsity contributor McKenzie Gunter graduated.
“McKenzie controlled the game and took charge of the team,” said Marsh Valley head coach Kyle McQuivey.
Lindsi Nichols, Rylee Belnap, Paige Vorwaller, Hope Dunn, Anna Gray, and Kasey Battson also graduated last season, meaning the Eagles will need to replace a lot of voids in their rotation.
McQuivey said he expects more of the load to shift to seniors Taya Batts and Macy Redford, along with sophomore Valerie Vorwaller. But as with any Marsh Valley team seemingly, no matter who is on the court, they are going to pester you the entire time.
“We want to hustle, bring defensive pressure, and try to stay away from the fouls,” said McQuivey. “I’m excited about the drive and speed of our players.” The coach added that his team needs to focus on playing all four quarters of the ball game and finishing, a problem which surfaced at times last season.
That same problem arose at the wrong time for Snake River last year. Despite having their best team since winning the 2013 state championship, the Panthers were unable to reach the state tournament for the third straight year. The team couldn’t keep the momentum they had from the end of the regular season and finish it through the rest of the district tournament.
Snake River returns a number of key players, including Colorado Mesa University signee Kelsey Higginson, who will be the focal point of many opposing defenses. She will be joined by Josee Steadman, Jordan Gilbert, and Ashtyn Martin as key players for the purple and black. Carlie Rowe is also back for the Panthers. Steadman, who is just a freshman, is expected to have a big impact on the program.
The Panthers do lose the services of Utah State-Eastern signee Alyssa Crumley, who played a major role in Snake River’s success over the last four seasons. Despite her departure, opposing teams are wary that the Panthers are still dangerous.
“Snake River head coach Jeff Steadman will have his players figured out even more now that he’s in year two,” said McQuivey. “They are a team that could surprise.”
Another team that is slowly, but surely on the rise is American Falls. The Beavers have been downtrodden for many years including a 47-game losing streak dating back to Jan. 9, 2015. Since the 2014-15 season, American Falls is 2-58 overall. But new head coach Stephen Grigg is ready to take on the challenge. The former Aberdeen boys coach, who lives in American Falls, wants to build the program from the ground up.
The groundwork began to be laid over the summer. When Grigg was first hired at American Falls, he told IdahoSports.com that the team had not played any summer basketball in the last three years and that a definite culture change needed to happen. He also added that it would take time, but that “they would get there.”
Fast forward to now. How does Grigg feel about his team?
“I’m excited about the level at which we play defense,” he said. “We have tremendous energy that is fun to watch. Our team plays really well together and we share the ball each night.”
American Falls brings back senior Madison Udy, junior Jessi Smith, and sophomore Halle Romero. Grigg said that sophomore Marissa Vasquez will also make an impact on the varsity level this season.
The team will miss out on the services of Madeline Wagoner, who carried a large scoring load for the Beavers. The coach acknowledged that generating offense would be their X-Factor to success this season, but that they hope to create offense via their defense.
“Our style is to pressure the ball and get turnovers, then push the ball up tempo and get some easy baskets. Scoring consistently is what we struggle with the most, and we have to score the ball more if we want to compete in our tough district.”