3A Intermountain League
Written by: Jake Caccavaro
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Braeden Blackmore, Bonners Ferry
Hayden Stockton, Bonners Ferry
Ashton Peightal, Timberlake
Taylor Menti, Timberlake
Logan Jerome, Kellogg
Riply Luna, Kellogg
Travis Matthews, Priest River
Trentyn Kreager, Priest River
The 3A Intermountain League is open for business this year, and although defending champion Kellogg is the likely favorite, the league is significantly more competitive from top to bottom than last year, when Kellogg was the only team above .500.
But it won’t be an easy path to a league championship again for Kellogg; the Wildcats won’t be able to cruise to another IML title after losing a huge chunk of their production.
IML co-MVP Graden Nearing graduated, and with the additional losses of Gavin Luna, Brandon Miller and Tyler Oertli, Kellogg will have to find a way to replace four all-IML players who accounted for the bulk of the Wildcats’ scoring.
It won’t be all newbies for Kellogg, though. The Luna brothers, sophomores Riply and Kolby are both back and will man the Wildcats’ backourt. Junior forward KJ Walker and senior center Logan Jerome both return as well. Those four should provide most of the on-court production.
First-year head coach Mike Martin has high hopes for Jerome, who Martin calls “a monster on the glass who can finish through contact.” Unlike most high school bigs, Jerome is a net positive at the charity stripe, a capable free throw shooter.
Kellogg has a pair of junior forwards new to varsity that Martin expects will become key contributors: Luke Frolich, whom Martin describes as a hustler and rebounder, and Tanner Groves, who missed a lot of last season and whom Martin says has a lot of length and hustle.
Although the Wildcats have a handful of veterans who should play a big role, the loss of their main contributors and go-to scorer Nearing means someone is going to have to emerge as the leader.
“A lot of these younger guys deferred to their older teammates,” Martin said. “Someone is going to have to step up and be ‘the guy’ for this group.”
Kellogg is definitely the favorite, but in the wide-open IML, Martin knows nothing will be handed to his squad, and he’s got an eye on a potential challenger.
“If I had to pick one [team to surprise], it would be Bonners Ferry,” Martin said. “They’ll be fairly young again this year, but that’s a good thing when you’re as competitive as they will be. They’re playing a handful of bigger schools this year, so they’ll be battle tested by the time league play starts.”
Included in that youth is Braeden Blackmore, the Badgers’ precocious star. The sophomore wing is back after an impressive freshman year, and he’ll lead a Bonners Ferry team that didn’t lose much.
Incredibly young last year, Bonners Ferry still isn’t a senior-laden team, but the Badgers do have more experience. Combo guard Brady Bateman returns for his junior year as the team’s likely primary ball-handler, and fellow combo guard, senior Hayden Stockton, is back and should share the backcourt with Bateman.
Head coach Nathan Williams’ squad will be better than it was last year, and if Blackmore takes the next step in his second year and the Badgers’ veterans provide a steady, consistent presence, Bonners Ferry should have a chance to compete for the 3A state tournament play-in game, if not the IML title.
Also competing for the 3A play-in game is the team that actually qualified for the game last year, Timberlake. Third-year head coach Mike Menti echoed Martin’s statements, agreeing that the IML is wide open this year.
“All four teams are going to start a lot of sophomores and juniors,” Menti said. “So it could be any of us.”
The trend of young, inexperienced teams in the IML continues with Timberlake, as the Tigers lost a handful of starters to graduation. With a roster consisting largely of underclassmen, replacing those seniors will be a tall task.
“We lost a great deal of leadership that now has to be replaced,” Menti said. “Those seniors did a great job of grooming the young kids.”
Outside of senior center Michael Simpson, Timberlake is a guard-heavy team. Menti expects juniors Zach Yetter, Taylor Menti and Ashton Peightal, and sophomore Hunter Higgins to provide key contributions throughout the season.
A guard-heavy lineup should help the Tigers improve their outside shooting, something Menti recognizes as something his team needs to work on.
“In general, we need to shoot better,” Menti said. “We have to shoot in rhythm and with confidence.”
Priest River struggled mightily with injuries and conditioning last year, and although injuries in general can be unpredictable, sixth-year head coach Kevin Wylie made sure his team did everything it could over the offseason to prevent another dose of the injury bug and compete hard for all four quarters.
“Strength and conditioning is something that I believe led to the injuries we had,” Wylie said. “We really took this seriously in the offense and our guys put in the work to get stronger, faster, and keep the endurance for 32 minutes a night, and throughout a long season.”
Junior forward Trentyn Kreager is back, and after a sophomore season in which he earned first team All-IML honors, Kreager will once again be the centerpiece of the Spartans’ offense.
Junior point guard Travis Matthews and sophomore power forward Jace Yount are both returning as well, but it's the players that are new to varsity that may allow Priest River to upset some teams this year.
Junior shooting guard Jordan Nortz will provide some much needed offensive firepower, sophomore combo guard Luke Butler is a strong defender with a capable offensive game, and sophomore point guard Teigan Marinello is an adept passer who will spell Matthews and run the second-team offense.
With the young guys gaining another year of experience and an offseason focused on strength and conditioning hopefully keeping the team in shape all season, Wylie is confident in his squad.
“Our players really bought into our beliefs and our system,” Wylie said. “We have great chemistry and we really started figuring out how to not only compete but win. Take away the injuries we had, I believe we would have had an opportunity for a state tournament berth [last year].”