Written by: Matt Harris
1AD2 Rocky Mountain Conference (District 5-6)
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
3. North Gem
6. Grace Lutheran
8. Clark County
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Caleb Green, Mackay
Jacoda Whitworth, Mackay
Bronx Holbrook, North Gem
Pratt Matthews, Rockland
Caleb Norwood, Rockland
Landon Bowman, Watersprings
Parker Simmons, Watersprings
Kieran Slack, Grace Lutheran
The Rocky Mountain Conference underwent some changes following the 2017-18 school year. The league added newcomer Grace Lutheran to the conference and Leadore returns to the varsity schedule, while Butte County exits and returns to the 1A Division-I ranks.
Last season, district champion Rockland and runner-up Mackay represented the conference at the state tournament. While both teams went two-and-out, the league is hoping for a rebound performance at state this season.
The preseason favorite in the league is Mackay. The Miners, led by head coach Kelvin Krosch, returns almost everyone from last year’s squad with the exception of Kobe Marinack, who graduated.
That returning experience and continuity should be helpful in Mackay’s quest for a district title and good showing at state.
“I’m excited to see how far our experience can carry us this year,” said Krosch. “Our starters have a bunch of experience. Some kids have started for three to four years. We started two freshmen at state last year that have improved drastically in the offseason.”
The Miners return seniors Dallin Green, Jacoda Whitworth, and Caleb Green to the floor this season and they will be expected to lead Mackay. Sophomore Kyle Peterson will also contribute. Krosch says his team is deep and hungry.
“I love our kids’ attitude and work ethic,” he said. “These kids are hungry to do something special this year. We are very deep with solid athletes from one through 10. We can go deep into our bench and not miss a beat.”
That is a luxury to have at the 1A Division-II level, where all schools have 99 kids or less. An offseason of work and the continuity that Mackay has should certainly put them in the conversation come early March.
“We are more physically mature and the kids are starting to develop into solid all-around ball players,” said Krosch.
Look for the Miners to put a lot of effort on the defensive side of the ball – it’s how they want to generate their success.
“Our defense is our offense,” Krosch said. “We can play many styles from up-tempo to half court sets. We have to rebound better this year if we’re going to have an opportunity in accomplishing our goals this year.” Mackay went 18-9 last season.
Rockland is hoping they can find the same success from last season, albeit with a slightly different cast of characters.
Both Spencer Permann and Rodney Parrish, two key players from last year’s Bulldogs squad, have graduated. That means that Pratt Matthews, Caleb Norwood, Landon Farr, Owen McLean, and Kaden Woodworth will be looked to for leadership.
Rockland head coach Shae Neal also says that sophomores Levi Farr and Braden Permann will have a big impact on the direction the Bulldogs go this year.
“This [year’s] team is more balanced,” said Neal. “We don’t have that absolute stud out on the court, but we have five guys that can score, defend, and be a threat at any time.”
The Bulldogs posted a 15-9 record last year en route to a district title. They are hoping that good chemistry early on gets them off on the right foot.
“This is a fun group that works extremely hard. They are all very talented in their own different ways, which in return gives us the chemistry and ability to create different mismatches and different play,” said Neal.
The coach said he believes the conference’s level of difficulty has increased this year, meaning that Rockland will have to up their own game.
“Improving mental toughness and situational awareness can help us be more successful,” he said. “Hard nosed defense, contesting every shot, and making it challenging for our opponents to score. Offensively, creating mismatches, having patience, and finding the open man.”
North Gem believes that they are in position to take one of the conference’s 1.5 bids to the state tournament. The last time that the Cowboys qualified for the state tournament was the 2009-10 season and went 13-12 a year ago.
Returning to the floor in Bancroft are seniors Jacob Neese, Bronx Holbrook, and Bennett Cooper. They are joined by juniors Toby Parker and Tyler Labrouche along with sophomores Logan Corta, James Bodily, Garrett Leavitt, Hazen Casperson, Rhett Barnes, and Brett Freeman. Look for Jayce Bagley to play a key role as well.
Head coach Kevin McLain is excited for the prospects of the forthcoming season.
“This team has a lot more experience and height and talent are on our side,” he said. “We will not have to be one dimensional this year because I have a whole team who can score. I don’t have to rely on one or two players to hit the shots.”
McLain says he wants his team to get after the ball and to play fast with high intensity. Those qualities will be needed if the Cowboys want a shot at the state tournament.
Watersprings is a team to watch in the conference this season. With new head coach Scott Moe, the Warriors feel that their new incoming talent has the opportunity to upset the natural order of things in the league.
A few seniors will be looked upon to lead the Warriors, including Landon Bowman, Hunter Rogers, Mikey Buell, and Parker Simmons. Look for Bowman to be the player that opposing teams will try to shut down primarily.
Moe said he is excited about the season ahead and the opportunity to assist in developing the fundamentals in the kids.
The new team on the scene this year is Grace Lutheran. The Royals, based in Pocatello, will be seeing their first varsity action as a full IHSAA member this season. They previously played games on the JV level prior to this season.
Building the program from the ground up is a challenge, according to head coach Jeremy Hess, but seeing the fruits of those labors has been worth it.
“There have been some ups and downs,” said Hess. “Having only freshman our first year was tough, but the kids have grown from that experience. We saw a little success last year, winning four games at the JV level. I have a few kids that were really raw two years ago, but they have played a ton of basketball since then. I’m happy that some of these kids are getting the chance to play and get better.”
Hess added that depth is an issue that they will have to deal with over the course of the season.
“We have kids with very little experience every year that will be forced into some tough spots against bigger, older kids,” he said. “Last year, we got a few wins and that really helped build our confidence as a program. They know that if they work hard, they can find some success and compete. Our biggest success has been producing confident, motivated kids that work hard for each other.”
Grace Lutheran has no seniors on their roster, but does bring back four juniors, four sophomores, and welcomes two new freshmen to the squad. Juniors Kaden Cummings, Nate Jimenez, Joel Besel, and Christian Moore will bring leadership to the team, along with sophomores Kieran Slack, Cameron Frakes, Anton Wullum, and Jarren Iverson. Look for freshmen Ryan Dillon and Zach Horst to make contributions as well.
“Our juniors have been through tough games and learned from the last two years,” said Hess. “Joel and Kieran have the ability to score and are exciting players. Kaen and Nate are players that have grown tremendously, work extremely hard, and provide steady defense and add to the offense.”
Hess also said that his team doesn’t have a ton of height, so they will have to adjust accordingly.
“On defense we’ll need to swarm the ball, especially in the post,” he said. “On offense, we’ll be quick and efficient. I think we’ll be able to put up some points. I’d love to play fast paced for a whole game, but we’re not too deep so we’ll pick our spots.”
Another team that is rebuilding from the ground up is Sho-Ban. The Chiefs, led by new head coach Tim Wilson, are wiping the slate clean and aiming for long-term success.
“Last year’s team ended the season with six players,” said Wilson, who has more than 20 years of coaching experience in the junior high, high school, and collegiate ranks. “This is a fresh start for the program and we are currently in the process of building a strong foundation for the program.”
Wilson said that he has 17 boys that have come out for basketball this year.
“I’m excited about the amount of interest and excitement,” he said.
With a new program and a new coach, there will be a learning curve.
“I’m in the process of figuring out what type of style we are going to play,” said Wilson. “My preference is to play fast and pressure on defense, but that doesn’t always work with the personnel you might have.”
The Leadore Mustangs also return to the varsity ranks this season after an extended absence. The Mustangs have not fielded a varsity team since 2015-16.
They are led by head coach Curtis Beyeler.
Clark County posted a 3-13 record last year. The Bobcats will also have two girls playing on their team this year, as there is no girls program in Dubois this season.