Written by: Matt Harris
5A High Country Conference (District 5-6)
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
4. Thunder Ridge
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Spencer Hathaway, Madison
Mason McWhorter, Madison
Bohlder Murray, Madison
Tanoa Togiai, Rigby
Britton Berrett, Rigby
Wyatt Taylor, Rigby
Andrew Van Sickle, Highland
Jadon Whitworth, Highland
Kobe Tracy, Highland
Trey Howell, Thunder Ridge
Lloyer Driggs, Thunder Ridge
Dalton Cook, Thunder Ridge
The 2017-18 basketball season was a memorable one for the High Country Conference. Two teams, Hillcrest and Madison, brought home hardware from the state tournament with Hillcrest nearly earning a state title banner and blue trophy.
The new season, however, has brought change to the conference that has experienced plenty of change over the last few years.
Gone are Bonneville and Hillcrest, who have dropped to the 4A classification. Into the league is newcomer Thunder Ridge, who will compete against Madison, Rigby, and Highland for two bids to the state tournament.
The preseason favorite in the conference is Madison. No one knew what to expect from the Bobcats prior to last season following the departure of a large graduating senior class and also their legendary head coach, Bill Hawkins. Madison started off last season with a 1-2 record. But the expectations quickly rose for Madison and new head coach Travis Schwab as they rattled off 11 straight wins and put the state on notice that they would be a force to be reckoned with.
“Last year’s team really played with a chip on their shoulders and they played every game in an attempt to prove people wrong. They competed in every single game,” said Schwab, now in his second season leading the Bobcats. “This year’s team doesn’t have tons of people doubting them like we had last year, so we will see if we can still play with that chip on our shoulder and compete for 32 minutes night in and night out.”
Last year’s young team is now this year’s experienced group of players. Back in the fold for Madison are senior guards Jaden Schwab, Bohlder Murray, Jordan Porter, and Cooper Poll. The Bobcats’ frontcourt will see Spencer Hathaway, Mason McWhorter, and Kyle Jackson.
Schwab said to watch for juniors Carson Downey, Mark Williams, and Dawson Wills for their impact on the varsity squad this season.
“I’m really excited about the experience we bring back this year,” he said of his crew which posted a 21-4 record a year ago and won the 5A consolation trophy. “We will return three players who started for us last year and we have three more who played significant varsity minutes last season.”
Having that experience should help the Bobcats’ goal of using high intensity defense to help create offense.
“We want to apply pressure defense as hard and as often as we possibly can,” said Schwab, who added that his team will need to improve in their rebounding. “Losing Joe Dougherty and Brigham Williams to graduation will really hurt us if we can’t box out and rebound like they both did last year.”
Moving southward on US-20, Madison’s longtime rival Rigby has some big expectations for the upcoming season.
The Trojans, which have yet to reach the state tournament as a 5A school, are looking to earn that elusive state tournament bid this season with a much more seasoned group of players. Over the course of the last two years, Rigby and head coach Justin Jones have been rebuilding the program and leaning on some very young talent.
This season, that talent’s previous experience should provide a formidable challenge to the rest of the conference.
Rigby graduated six seniors from the program last year, including Keegan Zundel, Tanner Clayton, Tane Togiai, and Ben Fullmer. This season, they bring back a number of players who will look to help lead the Trojans back to state. Watch for seniors Wyatt Taylor, Tagg Olaveson, and Easton Martin to lead the way along with juniors Britton Berrett, Keegan Thompson, Tanoa Togiai, and Brycen Uffens. Kaden Hall and Zach Byram will also contribute.
A year ago, Rigby won just six games. The year prior it was one game. Don’t expect a low win total from Jones and the Trojans this season. Rigby is out to prove that they are ready to take on the state’s best.
That is also true of the Highland Rams. The lone 5A school in District 5 has been absent from the state tournament the last couple of seasons but is hungry to end that two-year skid.
The Rams, who lose Daxton Carr to graduation, will lean on seniors Andrew Van Sickle, Jadon Whitworth, and Kobe Tracy for leadership this season.
“We are pretty deep and I am excited for the young players to develop and earn some time on the floor, and I’m excited for the senior leadership we have” said head coach Tyler Pearson. Highland posted a 15-9 record a year ago.
A balanced offensive attack is what Pearson wants to see from his crew this year.
“We share the basketball and play an up-tempo style,” he said, while adding that rebounding and grittiness on the defensive end would be major factors in their potential success this season.
Highland should be a tough-out for anyone who plays them, as the school in known for churning out multi-sport, successful athletes year-in and year-out.
The new kid on the block in 2018-19 is Thunder Ridge. The school, which opened for the first time this year, is a part of the rapidly growing District 93 in the Idaho Falls and Ammon area. The Titans, which sport a black, silver, and royal blue color scheme, draw students from the former Hillcrest and Bonneville boundaries.
Not a lot is known about the first incarnation of the Thunder Ridge Titans by the outside world. Head coach Lee Toldson is completely fine with that.
“I have a group of talented young players who I believe can surprise a lot of teams this year,” he said.
Suiting up for the Titans this year are seniors Jayden Kunz, Trey Howell, Dalton Cook, and Conner Haycock, with Howell being the only player on the squad with varsity experience courtesy of his time at Bonneville. They are joined by juniors Kayden Toldson and Jaycen Biggs with sophomores Tyler Godfrey, Brigden Craig, and Lloyer Driggs also in the fold.
All in all, the first roster for Thunder Ridge features four seniors, two juniors, and three sophomores. Everyone is expected to contribute for the Titans.
“I’m most excited about having the opportunity to watch my players grow and develop this year,” said Toldson. “I believe we can have a lot of success if we continue to get better and stay healthy.”
Part of Toldson’s biggest challenge in the first year of the program is getting the players all on the same page.
“The hardest part of building a new program is getting players from two different schools to come together and trust each other,” he said, adding he has enjoyed watching his players become one team. “Most schools have players who have been playing together for some time and they understand their system and each other. When building a new program, you have to spend a lot of time teach your players a new system and how to play together.”
“Overall, it has been a great experience and I look forward to building a great program that the community is proud of.”
Toldson, who has previously coached in Douglas, Wyoming, says to expect a fun and exciting style of basketball at Thunder Ridge.
“On offense we want to play an up-tempo style of basketball and try to constantly put pressure on the defense,” he said, while adding that he feels his team has good overall speed, outside shooting, and ability to run the floor. “The focus, however, will be the defensive side of the ball. We will play an aggressive man defense and press to try and get easy shots. If we can defense and rebound, it will allow us to get out and run.”
The first season is often the most crucial for any new program. Toldson has goals in place to set the standard for future Titans.
“We want to build a strong work ethic and winning attitude, create leaders in our school and community who are hardworking and high character athletes, and teach life lessons,” he said. “We believe if we can do those three things we will have success as a team.”