Written by: Matt Harris
4A Great Basin Ten Conference (District 4-5)
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
4. Mountain Home
5. Twin Falls
8. Wood River
10. Canyon Ridge
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Taylia Stimpson, Minico
Taycee Harper, Minico
Chinma Njoku, Century
Lexi Bull, Century
Olivia Holt, Century
Liz Lindhart, Preston
Bethany Dow, Preston
Mercedes Bell, Jerome
Alexa Thomas, Canyon Ridge
Paige Beem, Twin Falls
Morgan Cargile, Twin Falls
Destiny Harris, Pocatello
Jazzi Cristobal, Mountain Home
Kinzlee Bowers, Burley
Patrea Topp, Wood River
Audra Mary, Wood River
New year, new look, new conference.
The offseason featured plenty of change in the now-former Great Basin and District 5-6 conferences. Preston, Pocatello, and Century decided to disband from the combined District 5-6 league to join the schools in District 4, while Mountain Home chose to abandon the 4A Southern Idaho Conference in District 3 and join in on the fun happening in District 4.
As a result, the Great Basin Ten Conference was born, spanning a total of more than 250 miles from west to east. But the idea behind the conference was stability – and an opportunity for more berths to state tournament events.
If you combine the finishes at state from last season between the schools that are now representing the Great Basin Ten, you’ll find that four of them all played for a trophy of some kind on Super Saturday at the state tournament. Burley walked away as the state champion, defeating soon-to-be conference foe Century in a thriller, while Minico took home the consolation trophy over soon-to-be league opponent Preston.
All-in-all, three teams that are now in the Great Basin Ten took home a trophy from the state tournament. The league would love to see similar numbers heading into the 2018-19 campaign.
The Century Diamondbacks are the pre-season favorite to win the district title and for good reason. They return nearly everyone from last year’s runner-up squad, including frontcourt standouts Chinma Njoku and Lexi Bull. Olivia Holt will have a major impact on the game for Chris Shuler’s crew this season from the guard spot.
Century will challenge themselves this season with non-conference games against Highland, Madison, Hillcrest, and a trip to the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas. The Diamondbacks want to be prepared for the competition they anticipate to face at the state tournament should they get that far. Century posted a 19-7 record a year ago.
Across town, the Pocatello Indians will bring back one of their most dynamic playmakers in senior Destiny Harris, who is a complete player on both ends of the floor.
Head coach Brock Gunter’s team will also look to Abby Pearson and Adi Spillett for increased scoring and leadership for the Indians this year. Pocatello has not reached the state tournament since 2014 and went 11-14 last year. They came up one game shy of a state bid, falling to Preston in the District 5-6 second place game.
Heading towards the Utah border, the Preston Indians will hope to reach the state tournament for a third straight year under head coach Kimber Hall. Preston, which posted a 14-14 record last season and fell in the state consolation final to Minico, brings back seniors Liz Lindhart, Jessika Alder, and Alyssa Wood.
Another player who could have an immediate impact for the Indians this season is Bethany Dow, who transferred into the school from Madison. Dow was a key cog for the Bobcats last season and could translate very well into Preston’s system.
The team that Preston lost to in the consolation final, the Minico Spartans, are looking to regain their spot at the top of the conference standings. After finishing in second place in league play a year ago, Minico head coach Anna Bateman believes that if her team can stay healthy this year, they can be in the conversation.
“We return six players who saw quality time last year,” she said. “I’m excited to see how we gel as a team and see how far our senior leadership takes us this season.”
Last year, Taylia Stimpson was tearing up the Great Basin Conference until she tore up her body with a season-ending injury. She is back for her senior season and Bateman is expecting great things from her.
Also back in the fold are seniors Taycee Harper and Maddi Vorwaller to help anchor the starting lineup. Juniors Shaya Hawkes and Kayla Gibson will play key roles for the Spartans.
“We want to play up-tempo and have defensive pressure,” said Bateman, whose squad ended the season with a 19-9 record a year ago. ‘To be successful this season, improvement in our rebounding is the key.”
Minico’s archrival, the Burley Bobcats, sport an entirely new look this year. Not only did they graduate a number of seniors who played pivotal roles, including Sydney Pilling, Hallie Cooke, and Jemilynn Mahoney, they also sport a new bench boss on the sideline in head coach Amber Whiting.
Whiting, who is the wife to Burley boys basketball coach Trent Whiting, is tasked with replacing seven seniors who led the Bobcats to the state title a year ago.
Look for Kelsie Pope, Kinzlee Bowers, and Quni Ontihueros to play big roles for the new-look crew. There will be lots of room for growth as several players will have the opportunity to step up into key varsity roles for Burley.
“We have a great group of girls. They come every day ready to work hard and are eager to learn,” said Whiting. “They all will have increased roles since we only have a couple of players with varsity experience.”
Moving northward, the Wood River Wolverines will try to improve on a 7-16 record from a year ago. Head coach Amanda Crist is back for her 4th season on the bench and has the services of seniors Patrea Topp, Haley Bjorkman, and Audra Mary for another season.
Wood River posted double-digit wins two seasons ago and would love to return to that benchmark once again after falling short last year.
“Wood River had a great summer,” said Minico head coach Anna Bateman, when asked which team in the conference could surprise the most this year.
In the Magic Valley, the Twin Falls Bruins will look return to the state tournament after a one-year hiatus. They bring back a younger crew with limited varsity experience, but head coach Nancy Jones is confident that her team can find themselves in the right position at the end of the day.
“Our challenge is to improve and gain varsity experience quickly in every position,” said Jones, whose team went 16-9 last season. “We are more versatile and have great team chemistry again. This year, carrying a bench of eight will help rest some of our starters more often.”
Look for sophomore Paige Beem to lead the charge for the Bruins, along with junior guard Morgan Cargile. Jones expects juniors McKayla Rodriguez and Brinlee Stotts, and seniors Gracie Mumford, Aubrey Stansberry, and Madison Hicks to play key roles on the squad as well.
“Paige will be counted on to play the most minutes and keep contributing on both ends of the ball,” said Jones. “Gracie and McKayla will be our keys in the paint and Morgan will be counted on to increase her scoring output.”
Jones noted that their biggest focus as a program was their team defense, primarily keying in on and stopping their opponents’ top scorers.
Twin Falls crosstown rival, the Canyon Ridge Riverhawks, will be tasked with replacing graduated standout Caitlin Crist. Crist scored more than 1,000 points in her career at Canyon Ridge.
For head coach Kevin Cato, health will play a major factor in the success of his team this year.
“I think we have a chance to be a little better than last year if we can stay healthy,” he said. Canyon Ridge finished 4-21 last season.
Cato expects senior Alexa Thomas to assume the role of team leader as she enters her third season on the varsity squad. Fellow senior Karleigh Allen will help out at the guard spot while Brooklyn Weston and Grace Lumpumba will anchor the middle. Weston stands 6’3” and Lumpumba is 5’11”.
“We want to play through our posts on offense and try to pressure teams defensively,” Cato said.
Heading up the road to Jerome, the Tigers could potentially surprise quite a few teams in the Great Basin Ten Conference this season.
Jerome brings back plenty of young talent, including juniors Mercedes Bell, Abriana Hurtado, Amaya Thomas, Vanessa Peiffer, and Madison Deadmond. Senior Vivi Ortega returns following a battle with injuries and sophomore Ashley Cook is expected to make a big impact.
“I’m excited about the energy and experience coming back,” said head coach Jeremy Munroe. “Seems to be a lot of great team chemistry. I look forward to seeing what this team can accomplish.”
Last season, Jerome posted a 10-13 record. Many in the conference believe that they will do better than that this year, including Twin Falls head coach Nancy Jones.
“Jerome could surprise some people with a young, talented group that now has a year of varsity experience to draw from,” she said.
To improve on last year’s final standings, Munroe says that his team has to improve in two categories.
“Defense and reducing turnovers,” he said. “This year’s team is more athletic and there is a ton of energy. The girls are ready to step up and play hard.”
One of the newcomers to the conference, the Mountain Home Tigers, are a team that few are talking about now. Don’t let that fool you.
“I think the conference is open. There is parity across the board [in the conference],” said Jerome’s Jeremy Munroe. “Mountain Home could really surprise some people.”
Mountain Home is led by head coach Brent Keener and posted a 12-11 record a year ago. Keener’s crew returns a trio of seniors in Jazzi Cristobal, Emalee Pippen, and Adrie Blanksma. These three players have garnered plenty of experience for Mountain Home.
“I’m excited about our core group of players coming back led by our three seniors who have started on varsity since their freshman year,” said Keener, who noted that his team has more depth than in previous years.
It’s not often that you have one player who has started on varsity since freshman year, let alone three players on the same team who have done so. Look for Mountain Home to lean on their experience and leadership as they navigate their new conference.
Keener expects juniors Abby Acarregui and Shaleah Lasuen and sophomore Kyra Johns to play big roles on this year’s squad. Don’t be surprised to see freshmen Emily Harper and Sadie Drake having a large impact as well.
“We love to get out and play fast. Our transition and guard play is one of our strengths,” said Keener, who noted that his team must defend and rebound better.
With three state berths on the line come district tournament time, it should be battle to see who will represent the Great Basin Ten in the Treasure Valley in February.