2A Western Idaho Conference Preview
Written by Brandon Hill
Players to Watch
Johnny Sugarman, Ambrose
Lakota Steele, Cole Valley Christian
Jacob Ankeny, Marsing
Vander Woude, Nampa Christian
Tony Ray, New Plymouth
Joe Reiber, Melba
The projected favorite to win the 2A Western Idaho Conference might be an unfamiliar face.
Ambrose, the defending 1ADI state champion, moved up a classification 2020, meaning the Archers will have a tougher road to the playoffs, but an added vigor against competition that matches the intensity they brought to the court last year.
After surviving an overtime thriller against Potlatch, Ambrose breezed to the state title, blowing out Grace 49-27 in the championship game. Heading into this season, Head Coach Ken Sugarman will have to find a path to the playoffs without the state’s top player from the 1ADI classification.
Paul Yenor graduated after the Archers’ championship after leading the team in scoring and rebounding. Johnny Sugarman and Hudson Hughes return to help fill the gaps left by the electric Yenor.
But the Archers will have to earn their stripes in a higher classification, as plenty of 2A WIC regulars eye this year’s district tournament.
If last year’s district tournament offers any clue, the Cole Valley Christian Chargers have the best claim to the throne, being the only WIC squad to reach the 2A state semifinals. The Chargers entered last year’s district tournament as the No. 2 seed, but knocked off top-ranked Marsing to earn the playoff bid.
“Charger teams always look to peak at tournament time,” said Head Coach Brennan Koch. “Last year we entered the district tournament on a four-game winning streak that continued through the tournament and ended in overtime of the semifinals of state.”
Koch and the rest of the Chargers are hoping for a different outcome in this year’s tournament. Hunter Gille, Lakota Steele Garrett Smith return for 2021, filling in for nine graduated seniors. Koch also added transfer David Howlett to the post position.
Those new players, Koch said, should revitalize the offense, which averaged almost 49 points per game last year, ranking fifth in the conference.
As for the best offense from last year? That title belongs to Nampa Christian, which averaged 55.88 points per game. A large part of that production stemmed from Russell Vander Woude.
“Vander Woude from Nampa Christian is always scary and can light up the scoreboard at the drop of a hat,” Koch said.
But despite those numbers, the Trojans fell short of a playoff berth, losing to Melba in the third-place game.
The Mustangs didn’t advance far in the state tournament, going 0-2 in the opening rounds despite having the conference’s number one ball handler in Caleb Fong, according to Head Coach Spencer Trappett. In Fong’s place, Trappett said he’ll be relying on Joe Reiber and Henry Clark to pick up the slack.
“Henry Clark and Joe Reiber from Melba are top tier players, and Melba reloads from last year with a very good sub varsity team,” said Marsing Head Coach Tim Little.
Little’s Huskies finished the regular season with the highest hopes in the 2A WIC, going 8-2 in the conference. But a pair of heart breaking losses in the district tournament ended Marsing’s dreams of a state appearance, losing by a combined margin of just seven points to New Plymouth and Nampa Christian.
“Down the stretch of the season was a struggle last year. Although we secured a league championship, we sustained some injuries to key role players at the end of the year and we did not have the depth on our bench to maintain momentum,” Little said. “This year, we will have a little more depth and we will spend more time focusing on specific player roles that can fill in if we sustain players out with injuries or due to sickness.”
Jacob Ankeny, 2020’s WIC Player of the Year, returns for another round of Husky basketball, adding that needed depth to the Marsing roster. But Ankeny won’t be the only one helping the Huskies along.
“Most of our players have seen significant time last year as we went on to win our first league championship in over 25 years,” Little said. “We have a few sophomores that will be seeing varsity time for the first time and fill in some needed roles that are significant.”
Little’s squad prides itself on a stout defense, holding opponents to an average of 33 points last year. The Husky head coach says he’ll continue preaching that mantra in 2021, as the conference will feature unfamiliar faces in Compass Charter and Ambrose.
“Each game could determine a league championship, and the team that plays most consistent the entire season of league play will have a huge advantage,” he said.
New Plymouth leapfrogged Marsing for a spot in the state tournament, but fell short of a consolation championship against Malad. Little said after a 16-win season, New Plymouth returns a handful of starters, giving the Pilgrims one of the more loaded rosters in 2A.
Compass Charter enters the WIC after competing in the 1ADI ranks, much like Ambrose. Unlike the Archers, however, the Aviators struggled down the stretch, winning just five games. They will likely battle it out with Vision Charter for a bubble spot come tournament time.
Kevin Cornwall’s squad faltered last season, going 1-20. But a new season means a new chance at redemption. Kaden Degner, Nick Edgett, Hayden Pinkston and Dylan Hampton will hope to get Vision Charter into a position to potentially shock the state.
“I'm not one to toot my own horn, but I think we could definitely surprise some people this year,” Cornwall said. “I'm not saying we are a strong contender for a conference title or anything like that, but I do think our opponents will be surprised with how much we have improved over last year.”