Written by: Matt Harris
2A Nuclear Conference (District 6)
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
2. West Jefferson
4. North Fremont
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Indee Williams, Junior, Ririe
Maddie Johnson, Senior, Ririe
Kenadee Coles, Senior, Ririe
Jordi Holdaway, Senior, West Jefferson
Saige Moss, Junior, West Jefferson
Abby Schiess, Senior, Firth
Hailey Gee, Junior, Firth
Alexa Nedrow, Senior, North Fremont
Ellie Miller, Junior, North Fremont
Rachel Gebhardt, Salmon
Mackey Williams, Salmon
The 2017-18 season was another year to remember for the Nuclear Conference. The league took home two state trophies, including Ririe’s second place finish and West Jefferson’s consolation title. The district tournament was about as topsy-turvy as one could expect, coming all the way to a buzzer-beating shot in the ‘if necessary’ final game.
Or, in other words, that’s just the norm in 2A District 6.
“The Nuke is wild and crazy come district tournament time,” remarked North Fremont head coach Ben Lenz.
He’s not wrong. The Nuclear Conference has that reputation for a reason. Numerous upsets and wild contests, plus great success on the state level, have elevated the league to top-tier status. And the last few years, it’s been Ririe which has conquered the competition in conference play.
Picked as the pre-season favorite in the conference, the Ririe Bulldogs enter the 2018-19 having lost no seniors from last year’s squad – something that doesn’t happen all that often anywhere. Bulldogs head coach Damien Smith said that while his team did have some returning seniors that chose not to come out for basketball this year, he feels that his team is better equipped to handle the pressure of playing in the Nuclear Conference.
“We are more mature as far as age goes,” he said. “We are trying to put some young sophomores into the mix. Hold on tight!”
Smith added that he is very curious to see how his team will respond to their competitive non-conference schedule.
“It might be the toughest we have ever had since I have been the head coach,” he said. Ririe will face the likes of Snake River, Teton, South Fremont, Soda Springs and will also play in the Preston Tournament.
The Bulldogs expect to be able to continue the chemistry that carried them last season and hope that it improves as the season progresses. Smith is also hoping that his team shows toughness and grit.
One thing that will definitely continue: the style of play that Ririe has excelled at over the years.
“Ririe girls basketball likes to play fast and shoot a ton of three-pointers,” Smith said. “Time will tell with what we do well. I hope we do well in all regards.” Ririe finished with a 22-5 overall record a year ago.
Their roster fits that profile very well. Seniors Maddie Johnson, Anna Boone, and Kenadee Coles, along with junior standout Indee Williams, will be deep threats once again for the Bulldogs. They will shoot the ball from anywhere on the floor, as many teams have come to expect.
Eden Griffith and Halley Guthrie will attract attention down-low on the block, which Ririe hopes will free up more space for their shooters.
The team that nearly knocked off Ririe from their district championship pedestal last season will look to try once again this year, albeit with a slightly different cast of characters.
The West Jefferson Panthers bring back several players from last year’s squad that will look to regain the throne atop the Nuclear Conference, including league Player of the Year Jordi Holdaway, who is back for her senior campaign. Seniors TaNeal Wright and Makiah Rogers are also back, along with junior Saige Moss.
The Panthers did lose key contributors to graduation, including guards Allison Severe and Morgan Laird along with post Saige Kirkpatrick.
“We have only a few girls that have played varsity so we are going to rely on those that got lots of court time last year to be our team leaders,” said West Jefferson head coach Jalena Dixon.
Dixon is confident that her team knows and accepts the work that has to be put in to attain their goals this year.
“The girls on this team know that they have to step up and earn everything. They know it will not be easy but are willing to put in the work to get where we want to be at the end of the season,” Dixon said. “They are very unselfish and scrappy, very coachable and team oriented.”
One thing to expect from the Panthers is the aggressive way in which they play the game by using their speed. Dixon said that this would be a key focus for her crew this year.
“We need to speed up our game this year,” she said. “Aggressive defense and controlling the boards on both ends is going to be crucial.”
That holds especially true when going up against a team such as the Firth Cougars.
Firth, which boasts a lot of height in their lineup, will be looking to make a run at the state tournament this year, a place they have not been since 2015.
Head coach Sharla Cook’s Cougars return several key players, including seniors Abby Schiess, Jaylyn McKinnon, and Kylie Barker, along with junior Hailey Gee. These four players will be leaned on for leadership over the course of the season.
Cook said she also expects sophomores Hailey Barker, Kylie Mecham, and Cassi Robbins to have an impact on the varsity level this year, along with junior Piper Sullivan.
“We have a hard working group of players who love the game of basketball and work well together,” said Cook. Firth went 16-7 last season.
The Cougars want their focus to be on getting good shots through quick ball movement and to stifle opposing offenses through tough defense and rebounding, a trait that they have exhibited well over the last few seasons with standout play beneath the basket.
Meanwhile, northward in Ashton, the North Fremont Huskies will be trying to find themselves over the first part of the season.
“The opportunity [to play] will be there for many,” said North Fremont head coach Ben Lenz.
A number of players have moved on, including Maddie Miller (graduated), Brook Jones and Bailey Jones (moved to Ammon), and Renee Fabanich (chose not to play).
That opens up more opportunities for the returning players, including Ellie Miller and Alexa Nedrow, who both received All-Conference honors last season. Lenz said he expects Kelby Dye, Remi Litton, and Dakoda Dexter to all play an increased role on the team this year.
“We have a great attitude and willingness to work hard in getting better every day,” said Lenz, whose squad posted a 14-11 record last season.
“[Lenz] is a great coach and no one should ever count them out,” said Ririe’s Damien Smith.
The Salmon Savages are hoping to resurrect their program with a new head coach and a freshly wiped slate.
Pat Behrens takes over as the bench boss in Salmon and will have to be patient in the rebuild. The Savages have won just three games since the start of the 2014-15 season.
Look for Rachel Gebhardt and Mackey Williams to lead the way for Salmon, which finished 2-18 a year ago.
“Salmon has some athletes. They could put some magic together this season,” said Ririe’s Damien Smith.
If history is any indicator, anything could happen at any time in the Nuclear Conference. All teams are required to bring their absolute best every single night.
West Jefferson’s Jalena Dixon agreed.
“Our conference will be tough as usual. Each team is going to have to compete each night at their best to get wins.”