4. Twin Falls
6. Mountain Home
9. Wood River
10. Canyon Ridge
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Paige Beem, Twin Falls
Adi Spillett, Pocatello
Shaleah Lasuen, Mountain Home
Bailey Black, Minico
Abby Giardina, Canyon Ridge
Amari Whitting, Burley
Mercedes Bell, Jerome
Lexi Bull, Century
Written by Brandon Hill
With the Century Diamondbacks receiving an overwhelming amount of first-place votes in the preseason coaches poll after a championship run in 2018, second-place Minico will be hard-pressed to keep pace with the Great Basin favorites.
Easier said than done for the Spartans, as the Diamondbacks failed to lose in the opening month of the season, posting a 74-point blowout against Canyon Ridge in just the second game of the season. Century also has established a dominant defense, holding opponents to under 30 in each of its first four games.
Senior guard Bailey Black will be the Spartans’ key to keeping the Diamondbacks at bay, as Black finished last year on the all-conference second team after a phenomenal 2018 campaign. Alongside her, fellow senior wing Kylee McManus will look to lead a Minico group that saw the departure of dynamic game-changers like Taylia Stimpson and Maddi Vorwaller.
Minico Head Coach Anna Bateman named Pocatello and Jerome as possible fellow conference contenders behind Century, citing new Pocatello Head Coach Sunny Evans as a leader capable of taking the Indians deep into the postseason.
Formerly with the Highland Rams, Evans leads an Indian squad that finished 7-14 in 2018 but possesses seven seniors returning. Adi Spillett will be featured heavily on the Pocatello court, coming off an honorable mention all-area year.
“This team is going to look different this year as we look to shake things up a little bit on both sides of the ball with our new coaching staff,” Evans said. “We have some great athletes that are returning, and we are excited for what is ahead. I have a lot of respect for the coaches who were here before me and how hard they were able to get their athletes to play.”
With an added emphasis on defense, Evans said the 2019 Indians are coming together on the court, forming strong team chemistry in the early weeks of the season. But, outside a season-opening 39-35 win over Wood River, the Indians dropped their next three November games, two of which coming against conference opponents in Jerome and Mountain Home.
And while Evans continues to work out the kinks of first-year head coaching, Nancy Jones will enter her 13th year at the helm of Twin Falls, looking to rebound from a 9-14 2018 finish.
Paige Beem makes a comeback for Twin Falls, ready to continue her momentum after earning second-team all-conference honors last year. Jones also has senior post McKayla Rodriguez and senior guard Morgan Cargile to help lead six former JV members.
“Although we have more new players than returners, the newcomers play with high energy and want to win,” Jones said. “Key players will be our returners who know how things need to be done and are also great mentors and leaders to our younger players.”
Jones said this year, her offense will look to take more high percentage shots, making it easier on her young squad to get points on the board without trying anything from too deep. On defense, Jones said she’s emphasized pushing the tempo in transition and locking down the back end.
When looking at the rest of the conference, Jones said first-year Jerome Head Coach Cory Musgrave could surprise those sleeping on the Tigers. With a combined 10 years experience in the coaching realm, Musgrave takes over a Jerome team that won 10 games in 2018, but failed to win more than two in the month of December.
“We have 10 returning players with varsity experience,” Musgrave said. “We are deep and have great chemistry. I am really excited about my first season with this team at this level.”
Musgrave will have plenty of senior experience at his disposal, with returning seniors like Abriana Hurtado, Amaya Thomas, Makali Nance, Madison Deadmond and Mercedes Bell all coming together.
Musgrave said Burley shouldn’t be discounted for their new talent and will likely be a strong contender for the conference title in 2019, despite ranking seventh in the preseason coaches poll.
“Burley has Amari Whiting,” Musgrave said. “I saw her in the eighth grade last year and she is more than good.”
The Bobcats took a step back in 2018 after winning the state championship the year prior. But with young talent like Whiting, second-year Head Coach Amber Whiting said she believes her team can get back in the championship conversation.
“I’m excited about the team’s enthusiasm and buy-in for this season,” Amber Whiting said. “Their work ethic is what will carry them. The team is young but hungry and eager to learn.”
Only two seniors return to the Bobcats this year: Carrie Baker and Nicole Anderton. Juniors Kaia Kim and Kelsie Pope round out Burley’s upperclassmen.
Soundly in the middle of the preseason pack, Mountain Home and 13-year Head Coach Brent Keener enter somewhat of a rebuilding year after last year’s 19-7 campaign.
Keener returns just one senior to his squad in post Shaleah Lasuen, leaving three gaping holes in the Tiger offense. Mountain Home lost 1,000-point scorer Adire Blansma to graduation, along with Emalee Pippin and Jazzi Cristobal, all four-year starters.
Despite this, Keener said he expects his team to be a more balanced squad this time around, with plenty of players that could all provide valuable minutes any given night. Sophomore posts Emily Harper and Sadie Drake will be the cornerstones of the program heading into 2019, he said.
“We will still look to get out and run and play fast, even though our strengths are much different than last year,” Keener said. “We will also be aggressive on defense and will mix things ups.”
Near the bottom of the conference, Canyon Ridge will look to establish a rhythm in 2019, hoping to redeem last year’s one-win season. Fifth-year Head Coach Kevin Cato said summer workouts were key in building team chemistry for a squad that saw its fair share of adversity last season.
“Our seniors have been great at creating a team atmosphere that will hopefully carry over throughout this season,” Cato said. “Hopefully, with our youth this year seeing how they lead, this will lead to a culture change that will affect us for years to come.”