Bear Lake High School
Conference: 2A South East Idaho Conference
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Bear Lake High School Team Bio
Head Coach: Emily Schwarting
Years as Head Coach: 2nd Season
Previous Experience: 6 Years at Middle School Level
Record Last Year: 8-13
State Titles: 1999
Keesha Weston, G, 12
Ember Casperson, PG, 12
Matti Critchlow, G, 12
Karissa Parker, F, 12
Callie Clark, F, 12
Returning Players with Honors:
Karissa Parker – All-Conference Second Team
Key Players lost from last year:
Incoming impact players:
Skylee Wallentine, F, 12
Written by: Matt Harris
2A District 5 South East Idaho Conference
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
1. Soda Springs
3. Bear Lake
5. West Side
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Shawnee Simpson, Malad
Kassidy Willie, Malad
Reagan Yamauchi, Soda Springs
Sadie Gronning, Soda Springs
Kaycee Smith, Soda Springs
Kathryne McCullough, Soda Springs
Karissa Parker, Bear Lake
Destanie Ponce, Aberdeen
Jocelyn Mejia, West Side
The 2016-17 season saw Malad and Soda Springs bring back a pair of trophies to the 2A South East Idaho Conference from the state tournament – albeit, not the coveted blue trophy they desired. It was a strong showing nonetheless for the entire league in Boise.
Heading into this year, the conference could very well bring another pair of trophies back to south eastern Idaho – and their hoping that one of them is of the blue variety this time around.
“There are so many talented and well-coached teams in this conference,” said Aberdeen head coach Ryan Wahlen. “Malad took second at state last year while our conference champion, Soda Springs, took third. Bear Lake is definitely on the rise while West Side is only a season removed from a state tournament run. I think that it will take a very disciplined, mentally tough team to win this conference.”
“There are no nights off in the Fifth District.”
With the caliber of programs that are being run in the district, it’s no wonder that the conference is seemingly always in the running for trophies once mid-February comes around.
For many years now, Soda Springs has been the class of the conference. Head coach Wade Schvaneveldt’s Cardinals have what feels like a never ending supply of talent coming through the proverbial pipeline in Soda Springs.
This season, All-Conference selections Sadie Gronning, Kaycee Smith, and Kathryne McCullough all return to the court along with Reagan Yamauchi, who missed almost all of last season with an injury.
Those four on the court plus those who comprise the bench will constitute one of the more dangerous teams in the state once again. After falling in the state semifinals to conference-foe Malad last season, the Cardinals are hungrier than ever to get back to the state title game.
Malad’s presence in the state title game last season validated what head coach Jeremy Jones is trying to do with the Dragons program. Taking a team to the title game as a first year bench boss is no small feat.
But Malad will have to replace several key players that helped their the black and orange to the championship game last season, including Hanah Peterson and six other seniors whom Jones termed “players that led the way and built the foundation”.
The Dragons do return contributors from last season, including All-Conference selection Shawnee Simpson along with Kassidy Willie and Britlynn Hubbard. That trio will be looked upon to set the example for this year’s group of Dragons.
“Our team has bought in to working hard thus far and our team chemistry is strong,” said Jones. “We have strong fundamentals.”
While Malad was the team on the rise last year, Bear Lake could potentially take over that title this season.
The Bears, led by head coach Emily Schwarting, have a good amount of talent returning to the court in Montpelier this season, including seniors Karissa Parker, Ember Casperson, Matti Critchlow, Callie Clark, and Keesha Weston. Senior Skylee Wallentine is a player whom Schwarting believes will have an impact this season too.
While the Bears lost starters Katelyn Perkins, Jesse Beck, and Megan Brogan to graduation, Schwarting believes that her returning players can build on what those players gave to the program.
“Ember is quick on both offense and defense, with fast breaks and steals,” she said. “Karissa brings rebounding and scoring in the paint, and Matti can score from the perimeter.”
Schwarting isn’t the only one who thinks that Bear Lake is on the upswing.
“Bear Lake could surprise a lot of people this year,” said Aberdeen’s Ryan Wahlen. “They’re well coached and have a talented group of girls that are now juniors and seniors. I expect them to do very well this season.”
“[Schwarting] is a great coach and Bear Lake has a lot of excitement for their program,” said Malad’s Jeremy Jones.
“Bear Lake is a young team, but they could surprise,” added West Side head coach Alyssa Pinter.
For the Bears to surprise this year, Schwarting says that her team needs to improve in a few categories if they want to find themselves playing basketball in Boise in February.
“We need to improve on finishing strong and also be looking to score,” she said.
West Side is a team that is familiar with mid-February trips to the Treasure Valley. As Wahlen alluded to earlier on, it hasn’t been all that long ago that the Pirates made their last appearance at the state tournament.
With new head coach Alyssa Pinter in place, the maroon and white are ready to build their program back up after suffering through a 5-14 season last year.
Back in the fold with the Pirates is Jocelyn Mejia, Mauri Wade, and Jaycee Robinson. Those three will be leaned upon to guide West Side as the program looks to re-establish itself.
“We have a lot of chemistry as a team and play well together,” said Pinter. “We have a strong defense, but on offense we rush things when we don’t have to. That is something that we need to work on.”
While West Side begins to rebuild their program, Aberdeen will look to mold their program to the numbers they have – 14, to be exact.
“We’re few in numbers but they have a lot of potential,” said Aberdeen head coach Ryan Wahlen.
The Tigers bring back guard Destanie Ponce and forward Rosa Palacios while adding Vivian Lara and Tatiana Valeriano into their core group of players that will take on more of the load this year.
“Destanie played significant minutes on a senior heavy team last year,” Wahlen said. “She and Rosa will be called upon to provide leadership to this new group. As a group, they need to form their own identity on the court and chemistry off of it.”
With the loss of All-State guard Makenna Schritter and three-year starters Zoe Behrend and Josefina Uribe to graduation, plus the low-numbers that Aberdeen is dealing with in their program, it has changed the philosophy that the Tigers will use on the court.
“We will need to play at a slightly slower pace that we’re accustomed to playing at,” said Wahlen. “We’re looking to improve in all facets of the game.”
Improvement may be the theme this season in the South East Idaho Conference. Who can improve the most from start to finish? Who improves and plays the best when the games count?
Whoever emerges from the Fifth District will be battle tested by the time the state tournament rolls around.