3. Bonners Ferry
4. Priest River
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Gavin Luna, Kellogg
Graeden Nearing, Kellogg
Jacob James, Timberlake
Caden Brennan, Priest River
3A Intermountain League Preview
Written by Brandon Hill
Despite a losing record last season from every one of its teams, the Intermountain League sent two teams to state in 2018-2019 in Kellogg and Timberlake, with the Wildcats reaching the consolation final before losing to Parma 47-43.
Kellogg once again enters the season picked to finish first behind the leadership of four-year head coach Jeff Nearing. Nearing has spent a decade with the team, working the previous six years before his tenure at the helm as an assistant. Nearing and seniors Gavin Luna, Tyler Oertli, Brandon Miller and Graden Nearing will be looking to give the Wildcats their first state title since 1964.
“We’ve been to the state tournament for the last six years. People (not opposing coaches) from the schools we play year in and year out comment regularly how much they enjoy watching our teams play,” Nearing said. “We generally press from the opening tip and we like to push the ball.”
Graden Nearing steps onto the court for the final time after earning all-league and all-state tournament honors last year, hoping to fill the shoes left behind by graduated Brennan Atkins, last year’s leading scorer.
Closely behind Kellogg, Timberlake will hope to once again represent the IML, this time as an A seed.
“In order to be successful this year, we need to cut down on turnovers,” said head coach Mike Menti. “We cannot afford to lose opportunities to put the ball in the basket.”
Just three seniors return to the White Tigers in 2019 following the graduation of All-League player Jacob James.
“When you lose the great seniors that I had last year, leadership is going to be a focus for this team,” Menti said. “Jacob James has been a four-year varsity player for us and will step into that role along with Wyatt Dickenson and Jack McDonald.”
Menti said rebounding will be a large focus for Timberlake this season, as inaccurate shooting and inexperienced players often go hand in hand, making those second-chance shots all the more valuable.
“We return three seniors who will help to develop my young kids,” Menti said. “We are going to be on the small side of things so we will need to take care of the ball and work hard on the boards.”
Bonners Ferry and Priest River finished nearly neck and neck in the bottom half of the preseason coaches poll, with the Badgers earning the slight edge. Sixth-year head coach Andy Rice led his team to a 10-12 finish last year, thanks to the contributions of three all-conference players in Seth Bateman, Dylan Hittle and Chris Durette, all since graduated.
In their place, seniors Matt Morgan, Ty Bateman and Hayden Stockton hope to help rebound the Baders from a postseason-less year and get Bonners Ferry back in the state playoffs.
“We should be able to run the floor and put pressure on teams. We are able to create lots of competition at practice that should push us to get better,” Rice said. “We should be able to go up-tempo, we have a lot of guys that can run and shoot well. We are very young, our team chemistry is going to have to keep improving if we are going to have a chance this year.”
Priest River hopes to leapfrog league leaders Kellogg and Timberlake as well. A 2-18 season last year does not inspire much hope, but behind two-year head coach Kevin Wylie, the Spartans know anything is possible.
“We have a lot of talented players backed with senior leadership. We are a team with great chemistry, they play unselfishly, and they work hard,” Wylie said. “We are a guard-heavy team, so our style is a fast pace game. We will push the tempo, and we will be aggressive in the full-court defense.”
Wylie said defense will be a point of concern due to the overall height and size of his team, but said his sharpshooters will make up for that on the other end, including Jayden Hahn and Caden Brenna, an all-league first-team selection from last year.
“We have a hand full of guys that are very offensively skilled, and we have guys that will play valuable roles for us all year,” Wylie said.