Written by: Matt Harris
2A District 6 Nuclear Conference
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
2. West Jefferson
4. North Fremont
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Indee Williams, Ririe
Maddie Johnson, Ririe
Kenadee Coles, Ririe
Abby Schiess, Firth
Cammie Gee, Firth
Savannah Brewington, Firth
Renee Fabanich, North Fremont
Ellie Miller, North Fremont
Maddie Miller, North Fremont
Madelynn Beyeler, Salmon
Kaitlyn Burgess, Salmon
Jordi Holdaway, West Jefferson
Morgan Laird, West Jefferson
Jalette Peterson, West Jefferson
Year in and year out, the Nuclear Conference always seems to be a toss up.
It’s no different for the 2017-18 season as teams re-tool and reload for another run at glory. And glory has come quite often for schools in the conference.
Since 2013, four state championships have been won by schools coming out of the Nuclear Conference – and each one of those titles was earned by a different school. North Fremont shocked everyone in 2013 en route to the crown, Firth knocked off conference-foe Ririe to win it in 2014, West Jefferson rode a strong season to a championship in 2016, and Ririe finally earned that elusive banner after steamrolling most everyone in 2017.
Can the Nuke make it five in six years? The state-wide competition is tough, but maybe no tougher than in the Nuclear Conference night in and night out.
Defending state champion Ririe lost quite a few seniors to graduation last year, including Haddi Williams, Cassidy Griffith, Ashley Larson, and “Downtown” Kaylee Brown. For head coach Damien Smith, the key this season may be finding the right groove at the right time.
“We are a very young and inexperienced team this year,” he said. “These players will grow a lot as individuals and as players. Can’t wait.”
A majority of Ririe’s lineup this year saw time on the court during blowouts last season. They do return junior guard Maddie Johnson and junior wing Anna Boone, who made an impact on varsity last season. Ririe will also lean on the third Williams’ sister to don the blue and gold – sophomore Indee Williams – along with junior Kenadee Coles.
The Bulldogs may not have a ton of height to work with this year, but they plan on taking advantage of the skill sets they do possess – speed.
“We hope to run up and down the floor and play solid team defense,” Smith said, who added that he hopes his team is the surprise of the conference this season.
“We have no seniors on our roster,” he said. “No one expects us to compete.”
Firth, meanwhile, had a rough go of it last season. Between pre-season transfers and devastating injuries, the Cougars were behind the proverbial 8-ball before they got a chance to really get going. They were able to reach the state play-in game before eventually losing to Malad.
However, head coach Sharla Cook has a squad this year that is poised to have a shot at the conference title and potentially a deep run at the state tournament.
The Cougars have quite a bit of depth and height to work with. Abby Schiess is the focal point of opposing defenses, with Savannah Brewington and Kylee Barker also assisting. Cammie and Hailey Gee will make significant contributions again, while Ashlee Adams and Jaylyn McKinnon will add to the rotation, giving Firth a formidable attack on offense and defense.
For the blue and black in 2017-18, it may all be able staying healthy: stay off the injury list and the team will stay in contention.
For West Jefferson, the Panthers will use a balanced team effort to get the job done. After a sub-par 2016-17 campaign, second year head coach Jalena Dixon has her crew in position to challenge for a spot at state.
Jordi Holdaway has seen significant time on the varsity team and will be counted on to help navigate the Panthers through the always difficult Nuke. But West Jefferson has plenty of weapons to help get the job done, including Morgan Laird, Allie Severe, Jalette Peterson, Saige Kirkpatrick, and the trio of Rachel, Chloe, and Sage Moss.
The Panthers try to challenge themselves during the non-conference schedule, which should prepare them well for conference and district play.
The North Fremont Huskies are a team that can be difficult to prepare for – you just never know what head coach Ben Lenz has up his sleeve for a game plan.
What we do know is that the Huskies are always a threat. With star wing Halle Hill now graduated, the purple and white will now look to use a balanced attack to keep opposing defense’s honest. Ellie and Maddie Miller will be looked upon for stability and leadership, along with Renee Fabanich and Alexa Nedrow.
North Fremont is well coached and will be ready to roll at full steam once districts hit the hardwood at the end of January.
Salmon might be the question mark of the whole conference. While the Savages have yet to see any sustained success since dropping down from 3A a few years back, Salmon is now in year two under head coach Richard Barany and is showing signs of improvement each week.
The orange and black are led by Madelynn Beyeler and Kaitlyn Burgess and are relied on for a lot of Salmon’s offensive production. Brianna Taylor, Haley Davis, and Paige Reinholz are stepping up and filling in gaps nicely to help give Salmon a more formidable attack than in previous seasons.
Salmon’s success will depend on their defense and if they can keep game scores low. Points are at a premium and Salmon wants to slog it out each night on the court. If they can do that, the Savages could be a team to watch – and one on the rise.