2. Idaho Falls
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jett Shelley, Blackfoot
Reece Robinson, Blackfoot
Cruz Taylor, Skyline
Keynion Clark, Idaho Falls
Jaxson Sorenson, Idaho Falls
Trevor Austin, Shelley
Carson Johnson, Bonneville
Jordan Perez, Bonneville
Luke Patterson, Hillcrest
Dallin Weatherly, Hillcrest
4A High Country Conference Preview
Written by Brandon Hill
After missing out on last year’s state tournament, the Blackfoot Broncos are back and better than ever heading into 2019.
Coming off an even 10-10 season last year, the Broncos and fifth-year head coach Cody Shelley finished first in the preseason coaches poll thanks to a competitive group of six seniors.
Following the graduation of Dexter Hale, Shelley and the Broncos also have Canden Dahle and Carter Layton, a couple of new-to-varsity players hoping to make an impact at the highest level.
“This year’s team has more scoring options,” Shelley said. “We play uptempo and mainly man-to-man defense.”
After winning five of their last six games last season, the Broncos fell to Hillcrest and Bonneville to close out the season, but with a stacked roster that includes senior guards Reece Robinson, Jett Shelley, Isiah Thomas and Craig Young, Blackfoot should look dominant down the final stretch of the season.
Coming in second place in the preseason coaches poll, Idaho Falls returns just three seniors, along with junior Jaxon Sorenson, last year’s sixth man of the 4A state tournament.
The Tigers finished atop the High Country Conference a year ago, earning the district’s lone seed to state. And Idaho Falls did not squander the opportunity, winning their next three games en route to a state championship. With notable wins over Twin Falls, Vallivue and Preston in the postseason, sixth-year head coach Howard Hart knows what it takes to win.
“(We’re) returning kids from a state championship team, so they know what you have to do and have confidence,” Hart said. “They know they will have to earn another opportunity to get to state. They’re great kids.”
Hart said this year, he’ll be looking to increase the tempo on both sides of the ball and continue improving his players’ ability to perform in half-court sets. And with an undersized team compared to last year’s championship squad, Hart said shooting from downtown will become a new tool in the belt of the Tigers.
Third-place Hillcrest, meanwhile, finds itself in the thick of the conference race, led by fifth-year head coach Dave Austin.
On the hunt for the first state championship in program history, the Knights will be led by senior forwards Luke Patterson and Dallin Weatherly. Patterson and Weatherly take over for a Hillcrest team that saw departures from notable leaders like Kyle Austin, Parker Boyle and Bryce Cook.
“I am excited about the possibilities of this year’s team. With us being so inexperienced we could go a million different directions,” Austin said. “I love the attitude that these players bring every day to practice and the chemistry that they have. I know that I can count on them to give everything they have every single day.”
Austin said this year’s offense will focus 100% on constant motion and attacking the basket, with players on both ends of the court rushing to the glass for rebounds and second-chance shots.
Austin said he also dipped heavily into the pool of deserving JV players, calling up six athletes to help flesh out an inexperienced squad.
“This year’s team will be young with very little varsity experience. This year’s team mentality is one that I am very impressed with,” Austin said. “We will have growing pains early but will learn and get better as the season goes along. We will rely upon our Seniors to lead us and keep us composed.”
Bonneville, coming off a disappointing 12-12 season, will look to capitalize on the momentum established last year after winning the last four of five games to close out the year.
Behind sixth-year head coach John Tucker, the Bees increased their win total over the past two years from five to 12, but with powerhouses in the conference like Blackfoot and Idaho Falls, Bonneville will need every conference game to swing their way if the Bees want a berth to state.
Skyline and Shelley remain near the bottom of the preseason poll, but both teams possess enough talent to compete with the likes of leaders like Blackfoot.
Trevor Austin from Shelley and Cruz Taylor from Skyline both turned the heads of other coaches in the conference, and their athletic abilities on both ends of the court give both the Russetts and the Grizzlies hope in conference play.