Photo By Mike Turner - Hannah Palfrey
3A Intermountain League
Written by Jake Caccavaro
Players to Watch
Hannah Palfrey, Priest River
Makia Fitzmorris, Priest River
Taryn Soumas, Timberlake
Brook Jessen, Timberlake
Blayre Jeffs, Timberlake
Olivia Hammond, Timberlake
Holly Ansley, Bonners Ferry
Sierra Hill, Bonners Ferry
Piper Ranio, Kellogg
Grace Nearing, Kellogg
It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone if the 3A Intermountain League shook out almost exactly the way it did last season.
With three returning all-state players, the defending 3A state champion Timberlake Tigers are the clear favorite in the small four-team IML.
3A State Player of the Year guard Taryn Soumas is back alongside fellow All-State teammates in forward Brook Jessen and post Blayre Jeffs. The Tigers will also welcome back senior guard Olivia Hammond, an All-IML selection last year.
Timberlake will also be welcoming back a familiar face, this time on the coaching staff: former Tigers star Jacquelyn Mallet (2014-17).
“She played in four state championship games and won two state championships,” said Timberlake Head Coach Matt Miller. “She will bring great energy to the program.
Timberlake did lose All-IML sharpshooter Taylor Suko to graduation, but that shouldn’t be too much of a hit to a Tigers offense that was one of the most efficient in the state last year.
Finding flaws in state champion teams always takes some nitpicking, but Miller knows what his team will need to improve on this year.
“Every year we hope to be a better communicating and rebounding team than the year before,” Miller said.
The Tigers will once again be a heavy favorite to win the IML and will be looking to win their fourth 3A state championship in the last six years (2016, 2017, 2020).
After trotting out a young team last year, IML runner-up Kellogg is back with a veteran, junior-heavy team.
Junior program stalwarts Hailey Cheney, Grace Nearing and Darian Hill all return to the court, in addition to a couple players the Wildcats will welcome back from injuries. Junior guard Emma Vanhoose will be back after an injury cut her season short last year and senior wing Piper Ranio will play for the first time since her sophomore year after missing all of last season with a foot injury.
“Last year our team ran the floor well and the chemistry of our then-sophomore class made many of our games feel effortless,” said Kellogg head coach Jana Nearing. “I am looking forward to seeing the change in maturity from our junior guards and anticipate that experience will elevate our ability to score outside as well as take advantage of our strong post play.”
Scoring from outside will be a necessity for Kellogg if it wants to compete with Timberlake and make a run at an IML championship. The Tigers didn’t shoot the ball well last year, and that’s something Nearing has been emphasizing in practice.
“Last year, we struggled with our outside game,” Nearing said. “Our girls have been working hard in the offseason to mitigate that issue.”
Experience will also be a huge boon for Bonners Ferry, as the Badgers will see All-IML senior guard Holly Ansley and senior wing Sierra Hill back to lead the team.
The Badgers qualified for the state play-in game last year but fell short against a Teton team that started a senior at every position. This year, with a more experienced team, Bonners Ferry head coach Travis Hinthorn is hoping that will be his team.
“We were excited to reach the play-in game last year,” Hinthorn said. “But ran into a Teton team with five senior starters. We want to be that senior-led team this year.”
Joining the seniors is 6-foot freshman forward Asha Abubakari, a volleyball star whose immediate impact on the hardwood Hinthorn thinks should translate to basketball as well.
The Badgers should be improved from top to bottom, but they’re still gonna have to play four games against Timberlake and Kellogg, which could hurt the record but show Hinthorn where his team truly stands.
“We always look forward to battling against Kellogg for the half seed to state,” Hinthorn said. “We also look forward to competing against Timberlake to see where we are compared to them.”
After losing six seniors, including three-time All-IML center Karah Fink, from last year’s team to graduation, Priest River may be in for another tough season.
The smallest 3A school in the entire state, Priest River sputtered to a 5-15 record last year, and with six games on the schedule against strong IML teams, it could be more of the same.
Senior guards Hannah Palfrey and Annika Rantala return, as does senior center Makia Fitzmorris, but there’s a lot of youth on the team outside of those three.
Second-year head coach Gary Stewart is expecting a number of new-to-varsity players to make impacts this year. Lilly Freitas, Addy Kingery, Abbey Shockey, Samantha Pound and Allyson Barton will all be in their first season on varsity and should play key roles for the Spartans.
In addition to hoping the season is able to play out and games aren’t canceled due to COVID-19, Stewart has pretty simple expectations for his young team.
“Big improvement in being competitive and returning to play basketball in a system,” Stewart said on what he wants to see out of his team.