Written by: Matt Harris
4A High Country Conference (District 6)
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
5. Idaho Falls
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Maycee Stenquist, Senior, Hillcrest
Ashlyn Sargent, Senior, Hillcrest
Allie Cannon, Senior, Blackfoot
Olivia Arave, Senior, Blackfoot
Tenleigh Smith, Sophomore, Blackfoot
Sadie Lott, Junior, Bonneville
Brooklyn Cunningham, Junior, Bonneville
Maunayia Harrigfeld, Senior, Bonneville
Mattie Olson, Freshman, Skyline
Analise Cheret, Senior, Skyline
Sydney Leal, Senior, Shelley
Avery Downs, Senior, Shelley
Kennedy Burton, Idaho Falls
Olivia Hillam, Idaho Falls
As a new basketball season dawns, so does a new conference: one with new faces, teams, and geographical boundaries.
Following the completion of the 2017-18 school year, the former 4A District 5-6 conference was disbanded as Pocatello, Century, and Preston left to join the new Great Basin Ten Conference with District 4 schools. But the High Country Conference in District 6 just regrouped and added three new schools, as Bonneville and Hillcrest drop down from 5A with Shelley moving up from 3A.
All of this movement means that there will be a new conference champion crowned this year – and all expectations are that Bonneville is the pre-season favorite to do so.
The Bees, who won the 5A High Country Conference title a year ago and took home the 5A consolation trophy at the state tournament, bring back many key pieces from last year’s squad that are expected to have a big impact this year including juniors Sadie Lott and Brooklyn Cunningham, along with senior Maunayia Harrigfeld. Sage Leishman will also have an increased role during the 2018-19 campaign.
“Bonneville has several strong players but is definitely led by Sadie Lott,” said Skyline head coach Ty Keck. “She is fast, aggressive, and an all-around smooth player. She is a strong defender and a solid offensive player.”
Bonneville head coach Amy Wood has transformed the culture at the school in her three-plus years on the sidelines. Wood, who led Bonneville to the 2005 state title as a player, sports a record of 58-17 as a coach entering this season with 10 of those losses coming in her first year on the bench. Last year’s squad finished with a 24-2 record overall.
The Bees archrival, the Hillcrest Knights, would like to recapture the success they experienced from 2013-2016, which saw the crew from Ammon reach the state tournament in three consecutive years.
Knights head coach Alan Sargent, now in his second season as the bench boss, said his squad experienced a lot of growing pains over the course of last season but that their work in the offseason will make all the difference heading into the new campaign. Hillcrest went 4-18 last season.
“Our girls worked hard in the spring and the summer. We played close to 30 games and we were able to win most of those,” he said. “We are bringing back a lot of experience and the seniors have really accepted the younger players. Their different talents are just what we need. We have great chemistry and are excited for the upcoming season.”
Four-year varsity player Maycee Stenquist is the unquestioned leader of this Hillcrest team, being joined by returning starters Ashlyn Sargent and Livia Wood. Coach Sargent said to look for seniors Macy Speirs, Hallie Tueller, and Alexis Denney to have a solid impact this year.
“Maycee is one of the best one-on-one basketball players in the area. She requires a game-plan around her to slow her down,” said Skyline head coach Ty Keck.
Many area coaches believe that Hillcrest will be on the upswing this year, not only in talent but in their overall record.
“They have some talented shooters,” said Blackfoot head coach Courtnie Smith.
Skyline’s Ty Keck expects the Knights to be vastly improved this year as well.
“They have a strong core of players and have a great coaching staff. That combination always has a chance for success,” he said.
Coach Sargent said that many of his players were new to the varsity ranks last year and that the experience gained from last season will only help them moving forward.
“This year we have seven to eight players that have the higher level of experience and they’re ready to play,” said Sargent, who mentioned that he expects his team’s speed and quickness to aid them in their goal to force turnovers on defense and score in transition.
A team that went through similar growing pains two years ago and saw the fruits of their labors last year was the Blackfoot Broncos. Head coach Courtnie Smith said in previous years that her team had talent but lacked experience. Last season, the Broncos started to put it all together en route to a 13-12 overall record.
However, Blackfoot went two-and-out in the district tournament, falling to both Preston and Pocatello. They know that they have the talent to go much further this year.
“We have a lot more overall experience and IQ of the game this year. We have played together for many years and have great chemistry,” said Smith, noting that most of her team also plays club basketball in the offseason.
Leading the way for the Broncos in 2018-19 will be seniors Allie Cannon, Olivia Arave, and Maycie McBride. They are joined by juniors Rylee Neff and Kristen Thomas. Sophomore Tenleigh Smith, daughter of Coach Smith and First Team All-Conference selection a year ago, will orchestrate the offense from the point guard position.
Smith said to look out for junior Cassidy Cooper to have an impact for the Broncos along with Jerome transfer Gracie Anderson, who is entering her junior year.
“We have many talented players that can score or attack the basket,” she said, adding that their speed will allow them to push the ball and press opposing teams more often.
Skyline is going to rely on many of the same tactics to find success this season. The Grizzlies, led by head coach Ty Keck, want to use their speed and aggression to their advantage. Keck called it ‘small-ball’.
“We lost a lot of height from last year, so we will have to play a more aggressive style of defense while executing offensive opportunities that are high percentage plays,” he said. “We have a lot of speed and quickness but lack varsity experience.
The Grizzlies lost standouts Erin Jenkins, Brittney Dennert, and Halli Olson to graduation, but return senior forward Analise Cheret along with junior guards Macy Olson and Kalli Miller. Look for sophomores Lizzie Bialas and Sophia Anderson along with senior Tanneyce Jensen to play key roles as they move onto the varsity squad.
Another name to remember: Mattie Olson. The freshman guard has incredible potential for this Skyline squad.
“Last year we were great on paper but never quite played up to our potential,” said Keck, whose squad went 4-19 a year ago. “This year, we are a bit undersized but this group plays big and tenacious.”
Keck also said that he believes Skyline’s lack of current varsity experience can be offset by their ‘us-against-the-world’ mentality.
“They have strong chemistry and have a strong drive to play against all odds,” he said. “It should be fun to see several of the returning players step up in their leadership roles as well as an increase in their court time throughout the year.”
Skyline’s cross-town rival, the Idaho Falls Tigers, are looking to rebuild their program from a dismal 2-21 season last year. But they’ll have a new face patrolling the sideline throughout the process.
David Vest, who spent time on Idaho Falls’ boys basketball coaching staff, takes the reigns of the girls program and says that his crew wants to show that they can play better than their record a year ago.
“The girls are eager to learn and better themselves,” he said. “They have a lot of grit and want to prove to themselves that they can be better.”
Vest said that he feels his team is a bit more coachable and confident compared to last year’s squad, adding that their focus begins on the defensive end. He plans to use their defense to create transition offense.
Returning to the Lady Tigers in 2018-19 are Kennedy Burton, Madalyn Burton, and Olivia Hillam. Those three will be looked upon for leadership as Idaho Falls rebuilds their program and implements new offensive and defensive schemes.
Meanwhile, down the road in Shelley, the Russets are experiencing a transition of their own. Shelley rejoins the 4A classification after a six-year run in Class 3A. They had previously spent two years in the 4A ranks from 2010-2012.
Russets head coach Shari Moulton is in her second season leading the girls basketball program in Shelley and feels that her team will be more ready for the season ahead than they were at this point a year ago.
“They have a better understanding of our system,” said Moulton, noting how much she loves how hard the team works while still having fun.
Moulton preaches a fast-paced, fast break offense while playing aggressive defense. She says that her crew has to improve in two categories to increase their chances of success.
“We’re going to have to rebound and cut down on our turnovers to be successful,” she said, adding that her team is younger, but deeper this year.
Look for the Russets to lean on seniors Sydney Leal and Avery Downs for leadership, while juniors Kassidy Arzola, Addison Stoddard, and Salma Vega will all play key roles for Shelley.
As the High Country Conference kicks off the 2018-19 season, don’t be surprised if a few teams will be in the realistic running for the league’s 1.5 bids to the state tournament. Hillcrest’s Alan Sargent believes that this year’s iteration of the conference will be a dogfight through and through.
“It will be a tough conference this year for sure. In fact, it might be tougher than the 5A [High Country Conference]”, he said.