5A District 5-6 Preview
Written by Brandon Hill
Players to Watch
Mason Mickelsen, Highland
Kade Dabell, Rigby
Lloyer Driggs, Thunder Ridge
Jackson Sorenson, Idaho Falls
Taden King, Madison
Class 5A’s small conference got just a bit bigger over the summer, as Idaho Falls boosted District 5-6 from four teams to five, potentially widening the field for East Idaho in the state tournament.
Last year’s playoffs featured just one squad from the 5-6: the Rigby Trojans. And while Justin Jones’ athletes dropped their first matchup to Eagle 51-43, the Trojans made the most of their opportunity in March, winning their next two to secure the state consolation championship, defeating Lake City and Meridian in the process.
Unfortunately for Rigby, many of last year’s stars, ones that made the Trojans’ 2019 football state championship possible, graduated. But if Rigby’s performance on the gridiron in 2020 is any indication of the team’s ability to sustain success with fresh new faces, then the Trojans should be in a favorable position heading into 2021.
“Honestly, I don’t think that there will be any real surprises in our conference this year,” said Madison Head Coach Travis Schwab. “The conference is filled with good teams and I believe that it will be a fight to see who qualifies for the two berths for the state tournament. Our district tourney is going to be tough, so the regular-season games will be even that much more important because those games will determine who gets home-court advantage.”
Schwab and the Bobcats know all too well the benefits of a familiar territory late in the year. Madison finished second in last year’s conference tournament, losing to Rigby 50-49. The one-point win gave Rigby a guaranteed spot in the state tournament, while Madison was relegated to a play-in game, which it lost.
Schwab said he once again expects Rigby to enter the season as the conference favorite, thanks to returners like Kade Dabell and Ethan Fox, a pair of stars he’ll have his eye on once tournament time rolls around.
As for his own squad, Schwab returns First-Team All-Region honoree Taden King at the guard and forward position. King will be joined by fellow seniors Tyson Lerwill and Braxton Pierce.
But it won’t just be the seniors taking the spotlight this year. Schwab said a crop of juniors off the JV squad will make immediate contributions.
“They had a pretty successful JV year last year, so I am hoping that they all continue to progress,” he said. “Even though our season didn’t end up the way we were hoping it would last year, I was really proud of our boy’s effort on the floor. The guys worked hard and I am hoping that our seniors will continue to lead by example when it comes to hard work and dedication.”
Madison and Rigby finished the year with comparable defenses. The Trojans allowed 50.93 points per game, while the Bobcats allowed 51.12. But Schwab wants that second-best mark in the conference to get even lower, especially since the Trojans fielded an elite 63 points-per-game offense. Rigby owned the Bobcats in 2020, going 4-0 against their district rivals and dropping 77 on Madison last Feburary.
“I feel that we gave up too many points per game last year. We need to get that number back down under 50 if we are going to be successful this season,” Schwab said. “We also struggled with playing all four quarters last year. We need to be able to play consistently for 32 minutes per game if we want to be competitive this season.”
While the Trojans and Bobcats duke it out for the top spot in the district, Thunder Ridge and Highland continue to build on last year’s performances in the hope of slipping through the district tournament and on to state. Both squads finished with just one conference win a year ago, with the Rams scoring the fewest points per game of the four teams.
Thunder Ridge will look to rebound behind Lloyler Driggs, Tyler Dogrey and Tao Johnson, a trio of returners that helped the Titans win 10 games last season, coming one game shy of the district tournament.
Highland, meanwhile, has a pair of athletes that can help the Rams leapfrog Thunder Ridge for that third spot in the standings.
“The Rams have some returning players with a couple years of varsity experience in Mason Mickelson and Easton Durham,” said Idaho Falls Head Coach Nate Hartman. “Mason is a big athletic body with good touch around the rim and Easton is a great all-around athletic, quick and can defend.”
Hartman and his Tigers enter the new year in a new conference after moving up to the 5A ranks. The Tigers saw much success in the 4A High Country Conference last year, going 10-0 in district play. But Idaho Falls faltered at state, losing its opening matchup to Preston, then falling out of consolation contention to Minico. But the 2019 4A state champions remain optimistic, despite a new level of competition heading into the new year.
“We ran the floor well last year and that’s something we’ll continue to look to do,” Hartman said. “We executed well offensively in the half-court and rebounded well on both ends of the floor. Those are things we want to carry over into this season among others.”
Jaxon Sorenson will lead the team from the guard position, along with senior Dylan Seeley. The pair will attempt to keep Idaho Falls’ momentum, despite the loss of Keynion Clark off last year’s team.