4A High Country Conference Preview
Written by Brandon Hill
Players to Watch
Cooper Kesler, Hillcrest
Carson Johnson, Bonneville
Braxton Miskin, Shelley
Cade Marlow, Skyline
Raleigh Shippen, Skyline
Canden Dahle, Blackfoot
With Idaho Falls out of the High Country Conference, the district seems ripe for the taking by those squads who came up short in 2019-2020.
One of the obvious choices for the conference's new leaders is the Blackfoot Broncos. The Broncos came one overtime away from earning the top seed heading into last year’s state tournament, but the Tigers prevailed down the stretch. But neither High Country representative advanced past the first round, with the Broncos getting the boot courtesy of Kuna and Minico.
But hot on the Broncos’ heels, the Hillcrest Knights look more prepared than ever heading into the new year.
“Any district game because all teams are pretty equal this year in talent and games could go in any direction,” said Hillcrest Head Coach Dave Austin. “It’s going to be a great competition every night in our district.”
The Knights posted an even 13-13 record last season, falling to Idaho Falls in the district tournament. Were it not for the Tigers, the Knights would have likely earned a bid to state.
Austin lost valuable senior leadership in the offseason, with Dallin Weatherly and Luke Patterson both graduating. While the Knights don’t return any first-team all-conference talent, Garrett Phippen and Cooper Kessler were both named to the conference’s second team and return for 2020-2021.
Austin also added sophomore Kobe Kesler to the varsity squad to help fill out his lineup.
“We are expecting Kobe to fit right in and contribute in every way, starting from day one of this season,” Austin said. “He was our leader in every category on our JV squad last year.”
With Kesler one of the few players without varsity experience, Austin said he expects his team to showcase much improved awareness and basketball IQ.
“Our inexperience at the Varsity level was obvious last year,” he said. “Now that we have some experience our squad will know what to expect and how to deal with many different situations.”
Austin said he expects Skyline to also make a run at the district title after a rough 5-18 year. Grizzly quarterback Cade Marlow makes a transition from the gridiron to the hardwood, fresh off a 4A football state championship.
Bonneville will also operate on the bubble after a 9-16 season in 2019-2020. The Bees welcome back Carson Johnson from last year’s team.
The Shelley Russets, who finished at the bottom of the conference, will hope to turn heads at the dawn of the new year. Head Coach Jim Kolsen said despite a 1-21 outing, his eight returners should make the difference down the stretch.
Kolsen returns to the Russets, having coached the team in 2015 through 2017. For the last three year, Kolsen served under Ryan Frost at Century High School.