Photo By Chris Melgaard - Brooklyn Rigby
1ADI High Desert League
Written by Jake Caccavaro
Players to Watch
Maniah Clegg, Grace
Sydnee Smith, Grace
Belle Beard, Butte County
Kiya McAfee, Butte County
Emilee Hansen, Butte County
Once again, Grace High is the cream of the 1ADI High Desert League crop. Butte County remains the Grizzlies’s fiercest competition for supremacy, while Challis and Taylor’s Crossing duke it out for third place.
For Grace, it’s a case of the rich getting richer, as the Grizzlies, who placed third in the 1ADI state playoffs last year, add freshman Sydnee Smith to their roster. Smith is already making an immediate impact; she led the Grizzlies in scoring in their first game of the season, a 44-37 win over American Falls.
First team All-State forward Maniah Clegg is back for Grace and she’ll once again be the Grizzlies’ dominant force on the board. After averaging a double-double with 12.4 points and 11 rebounds per game last year, the senior has picked up right where she left off, with a 17-rebound performance against American Falls.
Grace came oh-so-close to the state championship game last year, falling to Prairie by just five points in the semifinals. The Grizzlies then easily handled Genesee in the third-place game to cap off a 19-5 season that it easily could improve upon this year under head coach Kyle Christensen.
Although they’ll have to fend off a talented, frisky Butte County team, even the opposing coaches know the road to the state tournament goes through Grace.
“There is only one bid for state this year,” Hansen said. “And they seem to be the team to beat.”
A couple years removed from back-to-back 1ADI state titles in 2017 and 2018, Butte County has almost returned to form in Hansen’s eighth year at the helm of the program.
After a down year in the 2018-19 season saw the Pirates finish below .500 at 10-13, Butte County bounced back in a big way last year with a 17-9 record and a state playoffs play-in game in which the Pirates fell a single bucket short of winning.
Now, that upward trajectory should continue in the 2020-21 season as Butte County returns a roster loaded with talent.
The Pirates welcome back three veteran All-High Desert selections in senior guard Belle Beard (first team), junior wing Kiya McAfee (first team) and junior guard Emilee Hansen (second team). That experience could be key for Hansen’s squad, which graduated only one senior from last year’s team.
“At times we struggled with pressure,” Hansen said. “I hope another year of experience under our belt proves to be the recipe for success and more confidence.”
Butte County gets its chops in the nitty gritty of the game, diving for loose balls, playing hard-nosed defense and working hard for every point. That’s Hansen’s philosophy as a coach, and one that she expects to take to the next level.
“Our team worked well on defense and we’re very scrappy,” Hansen said. “I hope that they will even work harder to intensify and take their defense to the next level of play.”
The fight for third place will take place between Challis and Taylor’s Crossing, and the Vikings have the edge. Challis won a handful of games last year, including one in which it trounced Taylor’s Crossing 54-8.
Challis brings back a starting lineup worth of seniors, and that experience could help the Vikings improve upon a 5-14 season last year. Size is a huge advantage in 1A girls basketball, and the Vikings have plenty of it with seven players listed at 5-foot-7 or taller.