Players to Watch:
Marlee Pieper, Blackfoot
Espi Vergara, Blackfoot
Alyssa Harris, Bonneville
Kaylie Kofe, Bonneville
Brooke Cook, Hillcrest
Quinleigh Kesler, Hillcrest
Lexi Kesler, Hillcrest
Megan Herbst, Idaho Falls
Calyn Wood, Idaho Falls
Brinley Cannon, Shelley
Mia Williams, Shelley
Amy Baczuk, Skyline
Kysa Shippen, Skyline
Shay Shippen, Skyline
Written by: Marlowe Hereford
For the third consecutive year, a 4A District 6 team was playing on championship Saturday at the Ford Idaho Center in February in Nampa. This time, however, it was the second-place trophy that went to District 6, as Skyline ended its best season in program history with a 58-43 loss to Burley in the 4A state title game.
Almost 10 months later, some familiar faces are back for the Grizzlies, who went 15-14 last season and made their first state title game appearance.
Sisters Shay and Kysa Shippen return, as does Amy Baczuk and Lex Haacke from the defending 4A state runners-up. All four of them are underclassmen.
"We have a very balanced team that has a high basketball IQ," Skyline head coach Ty Keck said.
"The girls will have opportunities to grow into some big leadership responsibilities."
The Grizz did graduate Mattie Olson (now at Montana State), who checked into the 4A state title game after missing the season while recovering from ACL surgery, sharpshooter Sienna Taylor and posts Teresa Ledezma and Tailer Thomas. Keck said rebounding and 3-point shooting will be focal points of emphasis this season, particularly upon the graduation of Taylor, Ledezma and Thomas.
Keck tabbed Shelley and Idaho Falls as teams to watch this season within the conference. Shelley returns Mia Williams and BYU commit Brinley Cannon. Idaho Falls, which returns Calyn Wood and Megan Herbst, is back in 4A this year after two years in 5A and going 8-17 last year.
"Shelley has been knocking on the door the last few years and is poised to make a big splash," Keck said. "I.F. has a strong set of returning players with skill, size and speed. I could see either of these teams making deep late season runs."
The Russets, who went 13-12 last season, graduated post Lex Leckington and shooting guard Taylor Ottley. Head coach Jessica Carlson said Shelley's offense was new last year and the Russets will continue to build on that this season.
"Our strength is our speed and control of the tempo," Carlson said. "We have great shooters and look to get early advantages in our offense."
Carlson added that defensively, the Russets will keep pressure on the ball, and the players have been putting in the work during the offseason.
"This year's team has great chemistry," Carlson said. "The girls love each other on and off of the court, and they love the game."
Blackfoot, which went 26-1 last season to place third at the 4A state tournament, graduated four starters who were also members of the 2021 state championship team: point guard Izzy Arave, center Hadley Humpherys, forward Kianna Wright and Praire Caldwell.
Blackfoot head coach Raimee Odum said filling those vacancies on offense, getting defensive stops and implementing a full court press will be priorities this season.
She added that this group of players are eager to prove themselves.
"Our team this past season was solid scorers," Blackfoot coach Raimee Odum said. "It will be difficult to improve from that group. However, we hope to guide this new group to find their niche with scoring. It may be less from on-ball screen actions, but more with off-ball screening and cutting. We hope to improve executing the offense and taking what the defense gives us."
Like Keck, Odum tabbed Idaho Falls and Shelley as teams to watch. She also tabbed Hillcrest, which returns all of its starters.
"Most of the starters have been playing together for two years," Odum said. "That kind of experience can really propel a team's confidence."
Hillcrest coach Alan Sargent said the Knights have numerous seniors who have improved since last year. He described this year's team as having more of a "run and gun" offense.
He added that this year's team has probably the best chemistry in his 25-plus years as a high school coach, and that enthusiasm and cohesiveness was obvious during the offseason.
"This spring and summer has been amazing," Sargent said. "I would get texts from most of our players almost daily wanting to get into the gym. When we did open up the gym and watch them scrimmage, they were talking, supporting each other, scoring lots of points but still having fun."
Sargent said to not overlook Blackfoot this season, even with so many experienced players having graduated.
"They have a great coach and she'll have them ready, at the latest by district play, and they'll surprise someone," Sargent said.
Bonneville, which went 11-14 last year, returns Kaylie Kofe and Alyssa Harris.