Written by: Matt Harris
3A Mountain Rivers Conference (District 6)
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
2. South Fremont
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Macie Knapp, Senior, Sugar-Salem
Madi Fillmore, Senior, Sugar-Salem
Waklee Kunz, Junior, Teton
Olivia LeCheminant, Senior, South Fremont
Paizlee Hobbs, Senior, South Fremont
The 2017-18 basketball season was a banner year for the Mountain Rivers Conference. The league sent two teams to the state tournament, the Sugar-Salem Diggers and the South Fremont Cougars, and both schools represented well. Sugar-Salem captured their sixth girls basketball title in school history while South Fremont advanced to the state semifinals and proved that they would be a team to be reckoned with in the future.
The standard was raised by Sugar-Salem during last season’s championship campaign and, while the Diggers lost several players to graduation, they are expected to make another run at the blue trophy. A lot of that can be credited to the program that head coach Crystal Dayley has built in Sugar City.
“We graduated a very talented group of seniors who had one of the most successful seasons Sugar has ever had,” said Dayley. “[This year’s team] has great chemistry and a good senior class who have invested a lot in the program. They are looking forward to being big contributors this year.”
All-State selection Macie Knapp will lead the way for Sugar-Salem during the 2018-19 season and will be joined by All-Conference selection Madi Fillmore. Dayley said that she anticipates juniors Macey Fillmore and Michelle Luke to step in and have a great impact on their team this year.
The loss of several talented seniors, including a number of tough, tall post players, will affect the way that Sugar-Salem looks to attack on the offensive and defensive ends this season.
“We are very short compared to last year’s team,” Dayley said, who added that her team needs to become more of a threat from the outside on offense. “We will play a very up-tempo game and look to push the ball and play intense on the defensive end.”
The target will certainly be on the backs of the Diggers, who have reached the state championship the last two seasons and winning it all last year.
One team aiming at that target is just down the road in St. Anthony. The Diggers archrival, the South Fremont Cougars, reached the state tournament last year and put everyone on notice that they are for real.
Cougars head coach Ryan Erikson, now in his third season leading the team, brings back plenty of talent from last year’s squad which fell to Timberlake in the third place game at the state tournament.
All-State standout Olivia LeCheminant returns for South Fremont along with All-Conference selction Paizlee Hobbs. They will be joined by guards Carly Hikida, Malorie Johnson, Jalyssa Stoddard, and Karlee Thueson, rounding out a good amount of returners who saw plenty of floor time a year ago.
“They are a smart group that works hard and understands what we need to do to have a successful season,” said Erikson. “They are a great group of girls.”
Erikson said this year’s squad is similar to last year’s team, but feels that there is plenty of improvement to be made.
“We are looking to get each player more aggressive and comfortable having the ball on offense,” he said. “We want to execute and take what we want offensively.” He added that their goal defensively is to keep their opponents out of the key and force the opposition to take, and make, tough shots that they are not used to shooting.
South Fremont will look to challenge Sugar-Salem for conference supremacy and will also fight to reach the state tournament in what is now a three-team conference. The league will receive 1.25 bids to the Real Dairy Shootout this year, meaning the second place team in districts will have to battle through two play-in games to get to the dance in Boise.
Another team looking to return to prominence is Teton. The Redskins struggled last season to a 2-18 record but have plenty of promise heading into the new year.
Teton returns practically everyone from last year’s squad after graduating a large senior group of girls from the 2017 team. Back in the fold is junior Waklee Kunz, who will use her shooting acumen to lead the squad this season. She is joined by junior guards Halle and Aspen Lasson, along with junior forwards Cambrie Streit, Brooke Kaufman and Analea Brown.
Senior forward Janie Nelson will also have an impact for Shon Kunz’s crew, which has already matched their win total from last year prior to Thanksgiving break.
“They are so well coached and Coach Kunz always gets his girls to play hard,” said Erikson of Teton. “They will have a better season than last year.”
Dayley echoed that sentiment and also spoke of the quality of the Mountain Rivers Conference.
“Teton had a down year last year but were very young and they have almost their entire team returning this season. South Fremont will have a great team as well with their two best players returning. I think this will be the most balanced our conference has been in awhile.”