Photo By Daisha Kiester, photo by Kelly Magee
4A Southern Idaho Conference Preview
Written by Brandon Hill
Players to Watch
Payton Hymas, Middleton
Gracee Gustin, Kuna
Ali Chatterton, Bishop Kelly
Jazzy Jenkins, Emmett
Piper Curry, Nampa
Mia Nottingham, Columbia
Courtney Williams, Caldwell
Despite fielding the second-largest conference in the 4A 2019-2020 season, the Treasure Valley failed to send a representative to the title game in February.
In 2020-2021, the Southern Idaho Conference hopes to change that trend, and it all starts with the team that came the closest last year — the Caldwell Cougars.
Caldwell finished last season with just four losses, one of which coming in the state tournament. The Cougars breezed through the District Three tournament after earning a No. 2 bid, defeating the Middleton Vikings 47-37 to win the conference title and get a prime seed into the playoffs.
But that’s where Caldwell’s story ends. After narrowly slipping by Preston in the first round, the Cougars fell 47-28 to Century. The Cougars quickly redeemed themselves, though, winning the state’s third-place trophy over Sandpoint.
Heading into the new season, the conference's most valuable sixth woman will have to become the center of leadership, as Caldwell attempts to recover from the losses of two graduated seniors. Jade Martinez and Katrina Vallejo, both off competing at the collegiate level, left gaping holes in Caldwell’s roster. This year, senior Courtney Williams will have to transition from valuable bench player to the star of the show.
Third-year Head Coach Ashley Green said maintaining the press will be more difficult than ever without last year’s seniors, but a crop of newcomers are looking to prove themselves in the early weeks of the season.
“Kianna Thomas has been working very hard in the offseason to get better and has improved her game a lot and A’mya Gonzalez is a very skilled freshman player that will come in and make an immediate impact,” Green said.
Challenging Caldwell’s path to the playoffs, the Middleton Vikings will be hoping for a hot start to the season to propel them to the top of the standings. The Vikings finished last season with one more overall win than the Cougars, but went a disappointing 0-2 in the state tournament. Head Coach Trent Harrison said he hopes to get the Navy and Gold back on track for what would be their first state title since 2017. That journey starts with a revamped Middleton coaching staff.
This offseason, Harrison brought on Mackenzie Royce-Radford, a standout player on last year’s College of Idaho squad. Together, she and Harrison will hope to restore a sense of toughness left by graduated seniors Ashley Cambell, Guard, Zoey Moore, Silvia Conley. In their place, Harrison will look to junior guard Payton Hymas, senior shooting guard Emma Kraupp and junior Reesa Whitworth.
“I hope to correct our toughness this season,” he said. “We lost some toughness in the offseason and it will be a focal point of our season to be a very tough team both mentally and physically.”
While two teams from the SIC earned bids to last year’s state tournament, seven other squads will be eyeing January’s district playoffs.
Bishop Kelly, the conference’s third-place finisher, took the offseason to retool, hiring new head coach Mike Griswold.
Griswold hails from the Knights’ JV squad, where he spent the previous eight seasons. In his inaugural year, Griswold will lean on the leadership of seniors Ali Chatterton and Claire Little.
Speaking of first-year head coaches, the Nampa Bulldogs welcomed CoCo Gall to the locker room. Gall cut their teeth coaching the Nampa Christian JV girls squad. Gall said while they may be new to the program, it didn’t take long to understand the incredible potential the Bulldogs possess heading into 2021.
Our returning players will be the key to our success this season. We have been a young varsity team that has grown up as a group,” Gall said. “We want to play fast and keep the pressure on. We will be Bulldogs.”
Gall said the Bulldogs have been waiting for this moment, with a core group of upperclassmen continuously improving year after year.
“Piper (Curry) was able to control most games at point guard. Her shooting, passing, defense, and leadership really showed. Audrah (Radford) stepped up in the post while Maddie (Ehringer) brought some great effort, defense and shooting,” Gall said. “Ashlyn delivers rebounds, defense and a good offensive game, while also showing the toughness and grit that we need.”
Further out west, the Columbia Wildcats are on the prowl for their first state title in school history. Columbia finished in the middle of the pack last season, and according to Head Coach Neal Robertson, a handful of new and returning players should make this year’s Wildcat squad one to keep an eye on. Mia Nottingham, an All-Conference Honorable Mention, highlights Columbia’s senior leadership. Coupled with senior Sage Meyers and junior Lexi Robertson, Columbia should make some waves in this year’s district race.
Bringing up the bottom of last year’s pack, Emmett, Vallivue and Ridgevue have a crop of up-and-coming stars that could turn the tides of the season. Jazzy Jenkings, the Huskies’ superstar, has turned heads already, with multiple coaches across the conference naming her as the top player to watch.
“Our team has complete buy in and our girls give everything to have to this program,” said Head Coach Stu Peterson. “We continue to see growth in their game. We hope to see more girls meet their goals.”
Jenkins, a second-team all-conference selection, will be joined by Haylee Jewkes and Kamryn Alder.
“Alder is going to make a difference with her attitude, speed, and effort,” Peterson said.
While the Huskies seem to be on the rise, the Falcons and Warhawks are still hunting for some conference momentum. Vallivue returns three key seniors in Angey Hernandez, Angel Parker, and Daisha Kiester.
“Angey Hernadez, who spent most of her Junior year on JV, is primed to have a monster 2020-2021 season,” said Head Coach Jordan Ax. “Her ability to create for her teammates as well as create her own shot will be key this season for our team.”
Despite the less-than-ideal final record for last season, Ax said the Falcons showed promise in the postseason, a good sign heading into the new year.
“After a slow start, we hit our stride during Districts, eliminating Nampa and competing against a well-coached Bishop Kelley team to overtime for an eventual loss,” Ax said. “The Falcons focus on running an up-tempo brand of basketball and will continue to use that model for the upcoming season.”
As for the Warhawks, new Head Coach William Rodgers will hope to prevent another one-loss season. A large part of that porous record came down to defense, where Ridgevue allowed an average of 53 points per contest.
“This program has been through a lot in its short five-year existence,” Rodgers said. “The new coaching staff will bring needed consistency and stability so the program can start the process of building a successful and competitive basketball environment to compete in the 4A SIC.