Written by: Matt Harris
1AD2 Rocky Mountain Conference (District 5-6)
PRESEASON COACHES POLL
4. North Gem
7. Grace Lutheran
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Cassidy Corta, Senior, North Gem
Kim Neese, Junior, North Gem
Madalyn Permann, Junior, Rockland
Charlotte Wilson, Junior, Rockland
Rylee Appenay, Senior, Sho-Ban
Reesha Pokibro, Sophomore, Sho-Ban
Harley Jackson, Junior, Sho-Ban
Joanna Hayes, Junior, Watersprings
Rylee Mathison, Junior, Watersprings
Remi Wojciechowski, Mackay
Riley Moore, Mackay
Danielle Girvin, Leadore
Paige Ramsey, Leadore
The 2017-18 season was a banner year for the Rocky Mountain Conference. The league qualified two teams for the state tournament and those two teams, the Butte County Pirates and Sho-Ban Chiefs, brought home the state championship and third-place trophies, respectively.
However, the conference looks a bit different heading into the new campaign.
Butte County has left the conference and rejoined the 1AD1 High Desert Conference. Grace Lutheran has been added to the league in their first season of official high school basketball competition. Clark County was unable to field a girls team at all this year, so the couple of girls who wanted to play joined the Bobcats boys team.
All in all, seven teams will compete for a chance to get to the state tournament come February – and the preseason favorite to win the conference crown is Rockland.
The Bulldogs are no stranger to success. Rockland has reached the state tournament many times under head coach Vern Nelson, now in his 23rd season on the bench. While a state title has eluded them, this year’s squad enjoys plenty of youth and talent which could help get them to the promised land.
Back in the fold for Rockland are seniors Eryn Parrish and Brinkley Boyer, joined by juniors Madalyn Permann, Charlotte Wilson, and Evie Waite. Look for sophomores Angie Lee, Hillary Hansen, Mitana Robinson, and Whitney Peterson to have an impact as well.
“We have some very athletic players in the program who have good quickness and can get up and down the floor on both offense and defense. There is a lot of experience along with good chemistry between them on the floor,” said Nelson. “We will need our younger players to step up and help fill roles as needed during games. As coaches, we are excited for the team and the potential that they have for this season.”
While Rockland missed the state tournament last season, Nelson said his team is using it as a way to fuel them this year.
“The older girls missed going to state last year and it is a motivating factor for them this season,” he said. “The girls are very competitive and want to do well.”
Nelson said that his crew this year will need to emphasize ball security and rebounding this year and just playing their roles the best they can.
“We are not a tall team and will need to work hard on rebounding. We need to also understand when to push the ball on offense and when to slow it down and run our half court plays. The young players need to continue to improve and fill their roles on the team,” he said.
A team that would like to continue their resurgence this year is Sho-Ban. The Chiefs, who won the third place trophy at state last year, would like to build on the success of last season and they have some firepower at their disposal.
Junior Harley Jackson, a transfer from Highland, has been a revelation for the Chiefs and has played outstanding basketball through the early portion of the season. Look for Reesha Pokibro and Rylee Appenay to play key roles on the team.
Andrew Baldwin returns as the Chiefs head coach in 2018-19. His team went 20-7 a year ago.
Staying in District 5, the North Gem Cowboys are coming off a 7-15 season which saw them miss the state tournament. North Gem, led by head coach Dana Strong, will look to Cassidy Corta, Kim Neese, and Harlee Davids for leadership this season.
"This year's team has a new attitude and a new approach," said Strong, who added that he has a young team that is still finding their own identity. "They hustle very well and work hard."
Look for the Lady Cowboys to want to push the pace on the floor this year.
"We want to be aggressive on both ends of the court and be an uptempo team," Strong said. "We want to set the pace and not react to it."
Strong added that Dannika Barfuss could play a big role as a newcomer to the varsity squad this season, especially with North Gem's desires to play at a quicker pace.
"She is an instinctive player who runs the floor well and is vert fast."
The new kid on the block is Grace Lutheran, who will compete as part of the conference for the first time this year. The Royals, led by head coach Hanne Krause, will have one junior, two sophomores, and six freshman on the roster. While they lack in the experience department, Grace Lutheran’s goal is to simply get better with each passing game.
“Our commitment is to not be out-hustled in any game and to play together as a team,” said Krause. “We want to focus on our defensive intensity.”
Moving northward to District 6, the Mackay Miners hope to be able to use some of their experience to their advantage in district play. The Miners bring back Remi Wojciechowski and Riley Moore to the crew and will lean on them for experience.
Mackay is coached by Kashia Hale. They posted a 12-13 record last season.
A little ways up the road, the Leadore Mustangs could be a team that surprises this season.
“They were tougher than expected last year,” said Watersprings head coach John Yadon. “They never quit and are not afraid of any team.”
Leading the Mustangs are Danielle Girvin and Paige Ramsey. Look for them to be the key focus of Leadore’s opponents. The Mustangs went 2-18 last season and are coached by Richard Barany, who is in his second stint with the team.
As for the Watersprings Warriors, head coach John Yadon believes that his crew is stepping up to the challenge set before them in the conference.
“We have good team chemistry and the ladies are working very hard as a team,” he said. “We are pretty scrappy, so it isn’t always pretty, but by hustling and working hard, we should be able to compete.”
Yadon said that Joanna Hayes has continued to step up her effort and will make a big impact on the team on both ends of the floor. He is also seeing great progress from both Angie Gomez and Riley Winkelmann, who are tasked with replacing the production of Abigail Yadon as she is still recovering from a season-ending injury last year.
“Angie and Riley combine to be a very good defensive pair,” Yadon said.
While Watersprings doesn’t return a ton of experience from last year’s team, expect them to compete night in and night out. Yadon said that Rylee Mathison, Gracie Carpenter, and newcomer Jessica Merkle are all expected to have an impact on this year’s squad.
“Our team unity is better and more of our players are stepping up and working hard,” he said.