Western Idaho Conference Preview
3. Riverstone International
4. Victory Charter
6. North Star
7. Compass Charter
8. Greenleaf Friends Academy
9. Idaho City
Written by Seiji Wood
In the loaded Northern Idaho Conference, Ambrose starts the 2019-20 season at the top in the coaches poll, and for a good reason. Ambrose returns 10 players from last season, including all five starters.
Out of the five starters, four of them return with honors. Paul Yenor was second-team all-state and first-team all-conference, Johnny Sugarman was first-team all-conference, Hudson Hughes was second-team all-conference and Ben Blythe was an honorable mention all-conference.
“We have excellent chemistry and return an experienced group that finished as consolation champs at state last year,” said Head Coach Ken Sugarman. “We had an outstanding summer of preparation for this season. It is a fun group to coach and we are all looking forward to competing.”
Along with the chemistry that Ambrose has, the team also feels like it’s stepped up their game on the court.
“This year’s team is a bigger, stronger, faster, more talented, and more experienced version of last season,” Sugarman said. “With all five starters returning, and 10 players with varsity experience coming back, we have very high expectations for this season.”
A team that’ll look to match Ambrose’s expectations is the No. 2 team in the coaches poll, Liberty Charter. Last year, they had an impressive record at 19-8. Despite losing five seniors, Liberty Charter will lean on two of the best players in the conference, Alex Bistriceanu and Dionicio Elton.
Riverstone International lands the third spot in the coaches poll and starts the season on many coaches’ radars. Last year, Riverstone finished with a decent 15-12 record. This year, the team has a new coach in Bobby Gnatt and eight returning players. Out of the eight, only one is a senior.
“I’m excited about the team’s enthusiasm and buy into the team goals for this season,” Gnatt said. “The team is very young this season, but hungry and eager to learn a new style of play on both ends of the court.”
Riverstone may not have the “surprise team” label by being so high on the coaches poll, but the team who actually fits that label is North Star.
North Star is currently sixth in the coaches poll following Victory Charter and Wilder at fourth and fifth respectively. They finished last season in the middle of the conference going 13-12 and lost nine seniors.
What makes the Huskies a surprise team is that despite losing nine players, they are long, athletic and like to play fast-paced basketball.
“We play fast,” said Head Coach Adam Rakin. “In one game last year we scored 97 points, we had 87 going into the fourth quarter.”
Rankin mentioned his team will need to tighten up on defense but he has coachable players and strong leadership capabilities in Kaden Baxter and Frank Gomez.
Though they may not have the label as the “surprise team” as North Star does, the Compass Charter Aviators plans to do just that this year with new head coach Trevor DeBuhr.
“I’m excited to learn what we have as a team. We only have two returning players with varsity experience,” DeBuhr said. “But we have a lot of talented incoming freshmen that grew a lot over the summer. I’m excited to see the impact these freshmen have and how we’ll surprise a few folks in the conference.”
Greenleaf Friends Academy, Idaho City and Rimrock round out the bottom of the conference. However, they all look to improve from last season.