Written by: Lucas Gebhart
2A Southeast Idaho Conference
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
1. Soda Springs
3. Bear Lake
T4. West Side
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Reagan Yamauchi, Senior, Soda Springs
Sadie Gronning, Junior, Soda Springs
Shawnee Simpson, Senior, Malad
Britlynn Hubbard, Senior, Malad
Whitney Lloyd, Senior, Bear Lake
Emily Hammond, Senior, Bear Lake
Aysha Mack, Senior, Aberdeen
Jacey Nielsen, Senior, Aberdeen
Jaycee Robinson, Senior, West Side
Kenlee Nance, Junior, West Side
West Side head coach Bob Sorensen says “All of Soda” are players to watch within the 2A Southeast Idaho Conference.
Soda Springs enters the new campaign as heavy favorites to repeat as state champions and returns most of its core players, including four-year starter Reagan Yamauchi and Sadie Gronning, who was the Idaho State Journal’s Conference Player of the Year last season as a sophomore.
Gronning registered 26 points in Soda Springs’ 56-46 win over Ririe in the state championship game at the Ford Idaho Center last February. Yamauchi pitched in 10. The two look to lead Wade Schvaneveldt’s squad into the new season, as the team already has wins over 4A Preston and 3A Sugar-Salem as of November 19.
The 2-0 start extends Soda Springs’ winning streak to 28, a streak that dates back to Nov. 10, 2017, where the Cardinals lost to eventual 3A state champion Sugar-Salem in the 2017-18 season opener. The last time Soda Springs lost to a 2A school was in the 2017 state semifinals, a 44-37 loss to conference foe Malad, who will be the Cardinals biggest challenger within the conference.
“I believe Malad has the talent to challenge Soda,” Sorensen, who is in his first season at West Side, said “(Shawnee) Simpson has dedicated her life to basketball and I think the supporting cast has greatly improved.”
Simpson will be rejoined by Britlynn Hubbard, a senior and All-State selection from last year. Simpson is a two-time All-State selection, and both her and Hubbard enter their senior seasons.
Halli Hannah, Bayla Tripp and Jenna Peterson, all upperclassmen, round out the rotation of a group that Malad head coach Jeremy Jones, now in his third season, says is “totally different.”
“Our leadership is really going to stand out and help us take the next step,” Jones said. “First year having returners that can help lead the team.”
Bear Lake, a team that lost by one, 44-43, to 3A South Fremont in its season opener, serves as the conference dark horse led by first-year head coach Brenda Messerly. But Messerly, who spent the past couple seasons coaching the junior varsity, won’t have too many familiar faces as the Bears graduated eight seniors from last year’s 10-12 varsity team.
“With our youth, there will be growing pains as they settle into bigger roles this season,” Messerly said.
The two most notable departures are Ember Casperson and Matti Critchlow, who were both awarded postseason honors, Critchlow earned First Team All-Conference, and Casperson Second Team All-Conference.
The Bears do however bring up a ton of talent from the junior varsity team, including Emily Hammond, Josi Kelsey, Paige Bennett, Hailey Humpherys and Elisabeth McDowell. The Bears also return Whitney Lloyd, a senior, and juniors Chelsea Gundersen and Jimi Lloyd.
“I’m excited for the youth of this team,” Messerly said. “They are hungry and love the game so much.”
Both Aberdeen and West Side represent the underdogs in the conference according to the preseason coaches poll. The Tigers had an injury-riddled 2017-18 season that finished with a 5-16 overall record and West Side finished 6-17.
Both lost some key pieces during the offseason and will rely on some young talent to find success in the new season.
Aberdeen graduated Destanie Ponce, who led the team in virtually every statistical category last year, and Vivian Lara, who holds the school record for most three-pointers in a single game. The Tigers will also be without defending and rebounding threat Rosa Palacio, who tore her ACL early last season, and the leadership of Tatianna Valeriano. Both are lost to graduation.
Aberdeen does however return seniors Jacey Nielsen, Aysha Mack, Jimena Serna and junior Zenaida Colungo, who will manage the point.
“We’re much younger, though deeper than a year ago,” said Aberdeen head coach Ryan Wahlen. “This is an entirely new team. We want to play with pace, but we need to allow our kids to grow into unfamiliar roles and responsibilities.”
Yasmin Ortiz, a talented freshman point guard, headlines Aberdeen’s freshmen class, one that Wahlen called “deep” and “talented.” Other freshmen on Aberdeen’s varsity team include Hope Driscoll, Ellie Watson and Courtney Phillips.
“We want to bring [Ortiz] along slowly so as not to overwhelm her or destroy her confidence,” Wahlen said.
West Side will be without Maury Wade this season as well as a few others who “chose not to come out,” according to Sorensen. Players the Pirates do return include senior post Jaycee Robinson and junior wing Kenlee Nance.
“At this point, we are just trying to figure things out,” Sorensen said. “If our young players can do their jobs and we can mesh, we should show improvement every game.”