Written by: Matt Harris
1AD2 District 5-6 Rocky Mountain Conference
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
1. Butte County
5. North Gem
7. Clark County
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Shay Lambson, Butte County
Sherawn Brownlee, Butte County
Meg Buxton, Butte County
Tausha Cummins, Butte County
Madalyn Permann, Rockland
Abigail Yadon, Watersprings
Marissa Nelson, Mackay
Remi Wojciechowski, Mackay
Sacoyah Appenay, Sho-Ban
The 2016-17 season was a record-setting season for the Rocky Mountain Conference.
Prior to the year, no team from eastern Idaho had ever won a state championship at the 1A level, dating back to 1977 when the Idaho High School Activities Association began sponsoring a girls state basketball tournament.
As well, since the creation of the 1A Division-II classification in 2009, no team from outside District IV had ever won a state title, as Dietrich and Richfield went back and forth for banners.
Forget about all of that.
Butte County swept their way through the entire regular season, district tournament, and state tournament in a dominating fashion that is rare to see in high school basketball. They went 24-0 and rolled to the state title.
And the Pirates could make another run at it again this season.
For Butte County, they return all but one player – point guard Macy Hansen – and they have the pieces in place to potentially go back to back.
“I have six seniors that are returning players and that could all be starters,” said head coach Carla Hansen. “They work well together both offensively and defensively.”
Back in the fold this year is First Team All-State selection Shay Lambson, whom Hansen says will transition to point guard and team leader. Second Team All-Staters Sherawn Brownlee and Meg Buxton are back, along with Conlin Coburn, Kinsey Isham, and Tausha Cummins. Mix in their experience with the new players moving into the program such as sophomore Kelsey Isham and the future looks bright for the Pirates.
“These seniors have been playing together now since grade school and have outstanding chemistry,” said Hansen. “I look forward to see the growth they can achieve this year.”
The coach said that for her team to achieve their goals, they will have to improve on blocking out, rebounding, and their press while continuing to play strong defense and shoot the ball well.
“Butte County is definitely the favorite as they bring back four starters from last year’s undefeated team,” said Rockland head coach Vern Nelson. “We need to play our very best basketball and hope that Butte County has an off night – which they did not have last year.”
Rockland, much like Butte County, hopes that a return trip to the state tournament is in the cards as well.
The Bulldogs went two-and-out at state last season, but found that they have some promising players who can help their program excel in the long run.
One of those players is sophomore Madalyn Permann, who shined on offense last season.
“She was an exciting offensive player to watch last season as a freshman and is developing into a good all around player on both ends of the floor,” Nelson said.
Nelson added that overall inexperience led to growing pains last season. But those growing pains will pay dividends this year.
“We were a young team last year,” he said. “We lost two seniors and return 10 underclassmen who had varsity playing time last year. There is a real maturity in our players this year based on the experience they gained from last season and during summer ball.”
Those two players who graduated were leading rebounder Brook Freeman and all around guard Karena Turnbeaugh, who made her impact felt on defense.
One thing that not many schools in 1A Division-II experience is a deep bench. Rockland has it this season, despite losing both Freeman and Turnbeaugh.
“We have good depth and versatility, giving the team a deep player rotation,” Nelson said. “I am excited to see our sophomore players continue to improve and see what they will bring to the team this season. Our juniors have improved and are ready to provide depth and leadership and we have good leadership from our seniors.”
Back on the court for the Bulldogs this year are seniors Sarah Wood, Jesica Robinson, and Riley Jensen, along with junior Eryn Parrish and sophomore’s Aly Lish and Charlotte Wilson. They will be counted on for good minutes and solid play.
Despite the excellent amount of depth that Rockland boasts, the matter of height is not in their favor this year. But Nelson and his crew have a plan in place to make up for what they lack in height.
“We aren’t a tall team, but we are very athletic with good team quickness and speed which we will try to take advantage of in our full and half court defensive schemes, along with pushing the ball down the court in our offensive transition,” he said. “Because we are a team without a player over 5’8”, we will need to work hard on rebounding. Our defense sets the tone for our play on both ends of the floor.”
He then added the two keys to success for the Bulldogs this year.
“Defensive play and rebounding will be the keys for the team to have a good season and achieve their goals.”
While Rockland is hoping for a repeat trip to the state tournament, Watersprings is hoping that this is the year for their first trip ever to the tournament.
The Warriors, who have slowed built up their program under head coach John Yadon, are starting to turn some heads in the Rocky Mountain Conference and could play the role of postseason spoiler for other teams if they can put the pieces all together at the right time.
“We only lost one player from last year’s team, so we have a great group of ladies returning that will provide good team chemistry,” said Yadon.
Among those returning are senior Taeya Dixon, junior MaryAna Buell, and sophomores Joanna Hayes, Rylee Mathison, Abigail Yadon, and Angie Gomez. Coach Yadon also said that incoming sophomore point guard Olivia Adams is expected to make a big impact on the Warriors squad.
“Taeya, Joanna, and Abigail are key to our success on both sides of the ball,” said Yadon, who noted that he is excited to see how Adams will contribute to the team once she returns from injury.
One of the team’s overall keys to success this year includes cutting down on turnovers.
“We do well at attacking from many different angles, but we need to do a much better job of reducing turnovers,” Yadon said. “We also need to make a significant improvement on perimeter defense.”
Yadon added that his team’s focus is not only to do well on the court, but to show class in how they play.
“Our ladies play hard and aggressive, but with good attitudes and sportsmanship, representing who we are very well,” he said.
“Watersprings’ program is fairly new and young, but they now have experience along with some talented players,” said Hansen. Nelson added that the team showed good improvement over the course of last season.
The Mackay Miners will look to overcome the loss of several seniors who made key contributions to last season’s team, including Libby Moorman. Players such as Marissa Nelson and Remi Wojciechowski will look to lead a young, but talented Miners crew under the direction of head coach Kashia Whitworth.
“Mackay is athletic, determined, and they play tough defense,” said Yadon.
Sho-Ban will seek for continued improvement under second year head coach Andrew Baldwin. The Chiefs went 10-9 last season and return Sacoyah Appenay to the squad.
North Gem was a young team last season and will hope to improve upon their 5-15 record from a year ago. Head coach Dana Strong is back to guide the Cowboys in 2017-18.
Jill Grover takes the reigns at Clark County in a dual athletic director/basketball coach role in Dubois. While the team went 3-16 a year ago, the Bobcats will have seniors Abby Grover and Yessica Ruiz in place to help shoulder some of the burden. Sophomores Joni Grover and Gaby Hernandez are expected to make an impact as well.
The Leadore Mustangs will have Remi Keller back at the helm this season as they work to improve on their 2-15 record from last season.