1A DI High Desert Conference Preview
Written by Jake Caccavaro
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Gage Stoddard, Grace
Payson Anderson, Grace
Konner Lambson, Butte County
Tyler Wanstrom, Butte County
Cody Hansen, Taylor’s Crossing
The pecking order in the 1A DI High Desert Conference should look relatively similar to what it was last year. Grace remains at the top, Butte County is a strong second and should compete for state tournament qualification, and Taylor’s Crossing and Challis will battle it out for third place.
Senior combo guard Gage Stoddard is back to lead a Grace team that came up short in the 1A DI state championship game last year. The 5-foot-11 combo guard is a prolific scorer and has the respect of his opposing coaches.
“I think Gage Stoddard of Grace will be the best player we see in our conference,” said Butte County head coach Mindy Gamett. “He scored 30 points in at least one of our matchups last year. He is a senior athlete with a lot of confidence and skills to match.”
Stoddard averaged 20 points per game last year, but it was his final game that might prove to be motivation for this season. In the Grizzlies 49-27 state championship loss to Ambrose last year, Stoddard shot just five for 20, scoring 13 points and only four throughout the final three quarters.
Although Grace lost 6-foot-3 senior center Ivor Gibbs and combo guard Jordan Mansfield, the Grizzlies aren’t bereft of talent surrounding Stoddard. Junior guard Payson Anderson is returning for Grace and he’ll join Stoddard as the other half of the Grizzlies’ electric backcourt duo.
In her first year at the helm of Butte County, Gamett inherits a Pirates team that lost to Kamiah in the state tournament play-in game by just one point, 42-41.
Gamett will have her hands full with a team that might be going through a bit of a rebuilding phase. Butte County lost six players from last year’s team, including focal-point scorers Bridger Hansen and Sage Cummins.
Junior forward Konner Lambson and junior guard Tyler Wanstrom are the only two returning players with significant playing time, and even then they mostly saw the court as role players. Gamett is expecting Boone and Logan Gamett, a forward and guard, respectively, to slot in as key pieces in the rotation.
Led by Hansen and Cummins, Butte County was an elite 3-point shooting team last year, and if Gamett wants to steer the Pirates to another shot at the 1A DI state tournament, she’ll need that prolificity from behind the arc to carry over with the new players.
“Last year’s team had some excellent shooters and aggressive offensive players,” Gamett said. “We hope to foster those beneficial skills into all players who participate in our program.”
The lack of an established star or go-to scorer could be a blessing in disguise for a Pirates team that tended to over rely on certain people to consistently score the ball last year.
“Last year's team relied heavily on big scorers,” Gamett said. “And we are hoping to create a more balanced stat line. We are hoping to have all players find offensive opportunities within the framework and style of basketball we will be playing. We would also like to see an increase in mental toughness and defensive grit.”
In addition to a new set of starters and rotation players, Butte County also has a brand-new coaching staff. Marc Hansen and Hayden Isham join Gamett on the bench.
“Each coach has something they hope to bring to the program,” Gamett said. “I hope to create a culture of hard work, defense and team-oriented play, as well as a focus on mental toughness. Marc brings a focus on defense and shooting technique, an emphasis on fundamentals, as well as varsity-level experience. Hayden brings a focus on hard work, defense, and post play and has a deep passion for the game.”
Taylor’s Crossing is in just its third year as a program, and with a first-year head coach in Cody Nelson and just one returning player, the Eagles could be in for a tough season.
The Eagles don’t just have an entirely new team, though; they have a team consisting of players who are almost entirely new to basketball. No one on Taylor’s Crossing has played basketball for more than a year. Nelson knows he won’t just have to coach basketball, he’ll also have to teach the sport.
“We are going to hound in the basics to these kids and go from there,” Nelson said. “Learning terminology and hopefully gaining a better understanding and IQ than they had before.”
Outside of junior forward Cody Hansen, the lone returner, it’s going to be a season of learning and growth for Taylor’s Crossing, which probably won’t be able to compete in too many games throughout the season.
“You have to start somewhere,” Nelson said. “And this is our starting point for this season. We are excited to see the progress of those that want to learn and be coached.”
In the same boat of competitiveness as Taylor’s Crossing is Challis, which is coming off a 3-15 season and will be in similar rebuilding mode.
However, the Vikings have a year up on Taylor’s Crossing in the rebuilding game, with a year of experience under their belt after losing all their players two years ago. That extra year of experience could start paying dividends as soon as this season.
“Challis [could be a surprise this year],” Nelson said. “They just got another year of experience after losing everybody two years ago. They could catch teams that are not prepared for them.”