Written by: Matt Harris
4A High Country Conference (District 6)
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
1. Idaho Falls
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kyle Austin, Hillcrest
Bryce Cook, Hillcrest
Parker Boyle, Hillcrest
Kalvin Bowen, Idaho Falls
Paul Wilson, Idaho Falls
Braxton Ball, Idaho Falls
Dexter Hale, Blackfoot
Jett Shelley, Blackfoot
Reece Robinson, Blackfoot
Randon Hostert, Bonneville
Riley Judy, Bonneville
Jamison Trane, Bonneville
Cruz Taylor, Skyline
Jo Bates, Skyline
Kadin Pabst, Skyline
Wyatt Remington, Shelley
Brandon McBride, Shelley
Corey Killpack, Shelley
When it comes to change, no area throughout the state is changing more than in eastern Idaho. Substantial growth in the Idaho Falls area has opened new schools and, as a result, it is shifting the landscape of high school sports in the area.
The 4A High Country Conference arguably experienced the most change overall. After being combined with the 4A schools in District 5, the two districts went their separate ways with the District 5 schools joining up with 4A schools in the Magic Valley and District 6 forming a new version of the High Country Conference. Re-joining the league are Bonneville, Hillcrest, and Shelley this year, creating a six-team conference that should be competitive night-in and night-out.
The conference has been given 1.5 bids to the state tournament, meaning that every conference and district game will be incredibly important. No 4A school from District 6 qualified for the state tournament last season as two District 5 schools, Preston and Century, earned the then-combined league’s two bids to the tournament.
The preseason favorite in the High Country Conference this year is Idaho Falls. The Tigers, which posted a 10-14 record a year ago, bring back the most starters of any team in the league.
Returning to the floor for Idaho Falls are seniors Kalvin Bower, Paul Wilson, Braxton Ball, Andrew Gregerson, Chase Baker, and Cam Conrad. They are joined by Dylan Seely, Spencer Moore, Jaxon Sorensen, and Kenyion Clark.
Idaho Falls certainly has a size advantage on their side with Baker at 6’5”, Ball at 6’6”, and Wilson at 6’10”. The guard play of Bowen, Conrad, and Gregerson will aid Idaho Falls in their quest to attain their goals this season.
Tigers head coach Howard Hart says that his squad wants to take advantage of the matchups on the floor.
“We want to push when we can and use our size,” said Hart, now in his 5th season leading the black-and-orange. “We have depth at every position.”
Hart added that his team has much more experience coming into the season. That experience should help the Tigers get off on the right foot to start the season and help them when pressure situations arise.
Thriving under pressure was the name of the game for Hillcrest last season. The Knights, who competed at the 5A level and went 21-6 overall last season, were able to come through in the clutch time and time again a year ago. Hillcrest came up just short in their bid win their first state basketball title, falling 59-51 in overtime to Rocky Mountain.
Gone from the Knights are standouts Derek Marlowe, Trey Johnson, and Jaxon Weatherly. But Hillcrest brings back plenty of talent to the court this year, including several players who made a major impact on the Knights run to the 4A state football title in November.
Head coach Dave Austin says he doesn’t mind the late start to the basketball season due to the football team’s success.
“I’m excited to have such a hard-working group of players back,” he said. “Having had such a great football season and carrying that over to basketball will bring us much success.”
Look for seniors Kyle Austin, Parker Boyle, and Bryce Cook to lead the way for Hillcrest. All three players played pivotal roles for the Knights on last season’s squad and will take on bigger roles this year.
Seniors Karter Battleson, Garrett Freed, Dakota Yorgesen, Trevor Roberts, and Ethan Hansen will all make key contributions to the team, along with juniors Luke Patterson and Dallin Weatherly.
Austin said that Hillcrest’s success all starts on the defensive end.
“Communication is a must for us as well as effort,” he said, noting that offensive flow and movement will be critical for any success they experience as well. “Our team will work hard in all aspects of the game. We will have to work on trusting each other in order to be successful.”
While the Knights return a lot of seniors, many of them have limited varsity experience, which Austin says is okay early on.
“This year’s team will be completely different [from last year],” he said. “We lost a lot of seniors from last year. It will take us a few games to figure out varsity basketball.”
The Skyline Grizzlies’ youth movement from last year could pay off in 2018-19.
The Grizz, which posted a 10-13 record a year ago, bring back a number of key players from last year’s squad, including seniors Jo Bates, Easton Taylor, Tanner Thomason, Ethan Wilding, and Kadin Pabst. Standout junior Cruz Taylor also returns for Skyline.
The squad from Idaho Falls’ west side was picked to finish third in the preseason coaches poll, but opposing coaches say that the Grizz could be the team to surprise in the conference this season.
“Skyline has a lot of key players back from last year,” said Idaho Falls’ Howard Hart, while Bonneville’s John Tucker noted that Skyline was “always a threat” and Blackfoot’s Cody Shelley added that Skyline “has some good guards returning”.
Clint Cornish continues to serve as the Grizz head coach. He is now in his sixth season as the bench boss.
Skyline is a scrappy team that can make life miserable for opponents if they get it going.
Another team built from a similar mold is Blackfoot.
The Broncos, under the direction of fourth year head coach Cody Shelley, are a tough minded team that “plays hard all the time”, according to Hillcrest’s Dave Austin.
While Blackfoot loses some height this year with the departure of Rayce Shelley and Trevor Miller, the Broncos look to be stacked on the guard line. Back in the corral for the Broncos are Dexter Hale, Jett Shelley, and Reece Robinson, all of whom will have a major impact on Blackfoot’s success this year.
“We have a lot of guard experience this year to push the tempo and will also be quicker on the defensive end,” said Shelley, who noted that 6’3” junior forward Jayden Wistison will play a key role for the Broncos.
In comparison to a season ago, Shelley says that his team has “different strengths, but should be quicker” this year.
The Bonneville Bees also feel they have different strengths from a year ago, partially due to changes within District 93 and the opening of 5A school Thunder Ridge.
“Change is the word this year,” said Bees head coach John Tucker. “We have had numerous changes, different kids, a new coaching staff, and it has been great. The attitude and chemistry has been a complete 180 from last year. Our kids are commenting on how they can feel the change in attitude.”
“There is a solid bond among the players this year that we were missing last year with lots of competition at practice. These kids are flat out getting after it.”
Tucker noted that he is looking forward to combining the youth that Bonneville has along with their current senior class.
Returning for the Bees are seniors Randon Hostert, Riley Judy, and Jamison Trane. Hostert, who signed with the University of Utah to play baseball, will be the primary interior scoring threat while still working around the arc at times. Judy is a three-point threat and Trane will look to blend a combination of outside shooting with drives through the lane.
Bonneville will also see big contributions from junior Jordan Perez and sophomores Carson Johnson, Devin McDonald, Cy Gummow, and Caleb Stoddard.
“We are shorter, but quicker this year,” said Tucker, whose team posted a 5-18 record last year. “This is my best shooting team I have had since I have been coaching at Bonneville. We will be more up-tempo this season.”
Defensively, the Bees struggled a year ago and Tucker, as a result, decided that a change in philosophy was needed.
“We will be better defensively this year,” he said.
The newcomer to the classification is Shelley. The Russets, which have competed the last six years at the 3A classification after a two-year stint at 4A from 2010-2012, will again join the High Country Conference.
If there aren’t many people who believe that the Russets can compete in the loaded league, head coach Wally Faster is okay with that.
“I honestly think we could be a big surprise in the conference this year, because I don’t think anyone is expecting us to be very competitive,” he said. “But if we can overcome the learning curve of transitioning into a bigger conference, I think by tournament time we could be right in the thick of it.”
Shelley returns a number of seniors that will be expected to lead the way, include guards Jake Wray, Wyatt Remington, and Brandon McBride, along with forward Corey Killpack. Foster says that seniors Parker Hansen and Zeke Archibald will play key roles on the squad as well and that Shelley will look to be more tactical in the ways they create advantages on the court.
“Last year’s team was really big, so we played more methodical and tried to utilize our size matchup when we got the opportunity,” he said. “This year, we will still be looking to exploit matchups, but it will be more about creating matchup problems by getting teams to switch and then take advantage of ‘little vs. big’ matchups from the perimeter.
Foster said that his team is relatively small this season and will need to use their speed to their advantage by playing up-tempo on offense and defense.
“We will have to work extremely hard on our rebounding in order to hang in with the bigger teams in our conference, but I really like our quickness and I feel like we might be able to impose our style of play on teams and wear them down,” he said, noting that his team is a close knit group which he believes will aid them in their transition into the 4A ranks.
Most of his returning players gained valuable experience on the varsity level last year. With some good shooting and solid defensive play, the Russets feel that they can be right in the mix come mid-February for the district tournament.
“Jake is a terrific shooter who should have a big year for us. Wyatt was our point guard last year and we will look to his leadership in taking care of the ball while increasing his scoring capacity,” said Foster. “Brandon is super quick and athletic and can really shoot it well, so we expect to see him turned loose and really cause problems for teams on both ends of the floor.”
“Corey is a little under-sized height wise but he is a tremendous rebounder and defender who will be asked to play a bigger role offensively as well. He is capable of being a double-double guy for us this year. Parker is a slick guard who can create off the dribble and defend as well, and we will look to him to get to the basketball and create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.”
Foster also says he has a solid mix of younger players who can provide the Russets with valuable minutes and solid contributions as they work on improving and expanding their roles.
Overall, expect the High Country Conference to be one of the most competitive 4A leagues in the state. Most coaches in the league believe the conference is wide open this year. That should ensure a wild and crazy run through conference play into the district tournament.