It’s going to be a fun girls basketball season in Idaho

BY KYLE FRANKO AND JOSH FRIESEN
sports@journalnet.com

After a banner 2012-13 season, high school girls basketball returns with a handful of games across eastern Idaho tonight.

Century is coming off a 4A state title game appearance, and the Diamondbacks greatest rival, the Pocatello Indians, return three starters from a team that surprised the state with a third-place finish.

The Highland Rams came oh-so-excruciatingly close to a state title game appearance, losing by one point to the eventual champs (Post Falls) in the semifinals before rebounding for a third-place trophy.

In the 3A ranks, the Snake River Panthers survived Parma in the semifinals and then rolled Filer in the state championship.

Like Highland, Century and Pocatello, Soda Springs falls into the what-could-have-been category from last year’s state tournament. The Cardinals’ first loss to a 2A opponent came in the championship game, a 45-40 defeat to North Fremont.

And in 1A D1 and 1A DII, both Grace and Rockland fell in third-place games.

All those results are nothing but history from this point forward. In the 5th District, there are two new coaches taking over programs (Pocatello and North Gem) and eight teams appear in the preseason media poll. Where anyone goes from here is hard to say, and there’s no point guessing because we’ll learn all the final answers in February during the Basketball Dairy Shoot Out. Let the games begin.

5A

HIGHLAND RAMS

Coach: Tony Green, fourth year

Record last year: 22-3, placed third at state

Starters returning/lost: 2/3

Reason for optimism: This year’s squad is a different team, and coach Tony Green has adjusted. The Rams will dial back the relentless press — but you can be sure they will still press — and they might even play a little zone. Timmie Bowie is back for her senior year and so is Makenzie Van Sickle and others. Talent has not vacated Highland’s gym.

Reason for pessimism: Rebounding. Highland lost its top three rebounders from last season, and they lack the depth of year’s past.

Players to watch: G Makenzie Van Sickle, Sr.; G Timmie Bowie, Sr.; F Reece Bauer, Sr.; F Katie Denney, Sr.; F Maren Herrud, Jr.

4A

CENTURY DIAMONDBACKS

Coach: Chris Shuler, fifth year

Record last year: 17-8, state runner ups

Starters returning/lost: 3/2

Reason for optimism: Team chemistry. It’s a varsity group that has played together for a long time, and, yeah, it helps that there’s plenty of talent back for the defending 4A 5th District champs who are coming off of a state championship game appearance.

Reason for pessimism: While three starters are back it’s the two who are gone that’s a concern, especially the departed Rowan Keller who guarded the opposition’s best player every game, practically regardless of position. Who will fill that thankless role?

Players to watch: G Sarah Holt, Jr.; G Rian Rawlings, So.; F Kylee Casper, Jr.; G Aliea Son, Jr.; F Lindsey Smoot, Jr.; C Henny Hearn, Jr.

POCATELLO INDIANS

Coach: Brock Gunter, first year

Record last year: 17-9, placed third at state

Starters returning/lost: 3/2

Reason for optimism: With offseason turmoil surrounding the loss of their last head coach, the Indians are just ready to play basketball, and the three starters back, Carly Parker, Paige Durrant and Brooke Pierce, from last season’s third-place squad provide Pocatello a solid base to start from.

Reason for pessimism: Beyond the starters, Pocatello lacks depth, and the continuing saga on the Indians’ former head coach only serves to distract the players.

Players to watch: G Carly Parker, Jr.; G Paige Durrant, Sr.; G/F Brooke Pierce, Sr.; F Heather Waldemar, Sr.

PRESTON INDIANS

Coach: Belinda Taylor, second year

Record last year: 3-19 Starters returning/lost: 2/3

Reason for optimism: The Indians have a large contingent of last year’s 18-2 junior varsity squad making the jump to varsity this year. Seven players from Preston’s successful JV team will be varsity contributors.

Reason for pessimism: While the talent is there, the varsity experience is small. Senior Brittney Parker, who started last season, will not be on the floor because of an ACL injury she suffered over the summer.

Players to watch: F Alexa Van-Vleet, Sr.; F Shania Carlisle, Jr.

3A

AMERICAN FALLS BEAVERS

Coach: Tyler Shafer, second year

Record last year: 8-13 Starters returning/lost: 3/2

Reason for optimism: With Lindsey Woodworth and Maria Sanchez, second-year head coach Tyler Shafer has the backcourt to run, run and run. The Beavers can score.

Reason for pessimism: American Falls’ backcourt is a strength and the frontcourt is, well, Shafer isn’t sure yet. His forwards and posts are young and inexperienced.

Players to watch: G Lindsey Woodworth, Sr.; G Maria Sanchez, Sr.; F Sammie Neaman, Jr.

BEAR LAKE BEARS

Coach: Brian Nate, second year

Record last year: 5-11

Starters returning/lost: 2/3

Reason for optimism: In coach Brian Nate’s second season, the players have adjusted to his program, and with BreiAnna Grunig and Kirsten Stevens in the frontcourt the Bears have a solid foundation for defense and rebounding. Plus, Nate hopes he has the outside shooting to help his posts on offense by spreading the floor.

Reason for pessimism: With Snake River, Marsh Valley and American Falls, the 3A 5th District is brutal, and Nate’s shooters on the perimeter are unproven to this point.

Players to watch: F Brei-Anna Grunig, Jr.; C Kirsten Stevens, Jr.

MARSH VALLEY EAGLES

Coach: Kyle McQuivey, eighth year

Record last year: 19-6, lost state consolation game Starters returning/lost: 0/5

Reason for optimism: Two years removed from a state championship and an undefeated season, coach Kyle McQuivey has built a program that’s more about reloading than rebuilding. And junior Faith Lolofie, relegated to coming off the bench last year, is ready to explode onto the scene in 2013-14.

Reason for pessimism: Depth is a major concern and with all the seniors playing the past two seasons, young players rarely found varsity playing time on the court. Now they will have to contribute right away.

Players to watch: C Faith Lolofie, Jr.; G Mckinzie Gunnter, Fr.

SNAKE RIVER PANTHERS

Coach: Rich Dunn, third year

Record last year: 23-2, 3A state champions

Starters returning/lost: 3/2

Reason for optimism: The defending champs have more depth than last season, and the inside/ outside combination of seniors Brylie Bair and Makena Shelley is as good as it gets.

Reason for pessimism: The Panthers have three starters back but the two they lost — Maddie Pilster and Kylie Coby — both moved on to play college basketball. They were steady contributors for Snake River on both sides of the basketball, and replacing their production (and leadership) is no simple or easy task.

Players to watch: G Makena Shelley, Sr.; F Brylie Bair, Sr.; G Scout Baldwin, Sr.

SHELLEY RUSSETS

Coach: Burke Davis, seventh year

Record last year: 12-11 Starters returning/lost: 2/3

Reason for optimism: This team has loads of young athleticism. The large number of seniors that have departed means any amount of those young players are free to step into contributing varsity roles.

Reason for pessimism: The 3A 6th District is a scary place to be. Sugar-Salem and Teton are both going to be hard teams to crack. Head coach Burke Davis isn’t sure there is a favorite to emerge at the top of the conference.

Players to watch: G Indi Young, Sr.; F Brecklyn Hobbs, Jr.; F Kira Marlow, So.; G Madi Ball, Jr.

2A

ABERDEEN TIGERS

Coach: Karalee Bonzon, third year

Record last year: 10-12

Starters returning/lost: 1/4

Reason for optimism: With six seniors gone to graduation, there’s a youth movement in Aberdeen, and that fits third-year head coach Karalee Bonzon just fine. The Tigers had won four games in five years before she arrived, and now there’s a culture installed that the new players have accepted.

Reason for pessimism: Filling in for six lost seniors is no easy matter. The new girls have the gumption to learn, and picking up wins along the way might be a bonus rather than an expectation.

Players to watch: G Kaitlin Jolley, Sr.; C Kira Shelman, Sr.

MALAD DRAGONS

Coach: Bob Sorensen, sixth year Record last year: 13-12

Starters returning/lost: 2/3

Reason for optimism: Malad has size and experience with players like forward Brooke Sorensen and guard Sage Smith. Plus, sophomore Paityn Tripp is ready for more time on the varsity level.

Reason for pessimism: Malad is missing one of the 2A 5th District’s best post players, Aubrey King, with a knee injury. She provided scoring, rebounding and defense. How other players fill the void she left will go a long way in determining Malad’s ultimate fate.

Players to watch: F Brooke Sorensen, Sr.; G Sierra Detwiler, Sr.; G Sage Smith, Jr.; F, Paityn Tripp, So.

SODA SPRINGS CARDINALS

Coach: Wade Schvaneveldt, 12th year

Record last year: 23-3, state runner-ups

Starters returning/lost: 3/2

Reason for optimism: Soda Springs has made the state tournament the past 11 seasons, and with Dakota Siepert, Anndee Neuman and Markee Kimball all returning from last season’s second-place squad expect that trend to continue.

Reason for pessimism: The Cardinals are talented but lack height in the post, a problem only rearing its head when Soda faces the elite in the 2A classification.

Players to watch: F Markee Kimball, Jr; G Dakota Siepert, Sr.

WEST SIDE PIRATES

Coach: Kelli Hobson, second year

Record last year: 4-17 Starters returning/lost: 1/4

Reason for optimism: Coach Kelli Hobson has an injection of youth, enthusiasm and energy into the program for 2013-14.

Reason for pessimism: Most of that youth, enthusiasm and energy is unproven at the varsity level. Plus, two ACL injuries have left the Pirates with six players on the varsity roster.

Players to watch: F Abbie Povey, So.; G Addie Cook, So.

1A DI

GRACE GRIZZLIES

Coach: Kevin Smith, sixth year

Record last year: 17-11, lost third-place game at state

Starters returning/lost: 3/2

Reason for optimism: For the first time in coach Kevin Smith’s time at Grace, the Grizzlies boast depth. They can dip into the bench and play as many as eight girls without a major drop off.

Reason for pessmism: Injuries are always a concern, but barring unforeseen circumstances, Grace is poised to make a run at state for the third straight season.

Players to watch: F Mackenzie Windley, Sr.; G/F Kate Skinner, Sr.; C Danielle Prowell, Sr.; G Kyrie Christensen, So.; G/F Brittany Bitton, Sr.

1A DII

NORTH GEM COWBOYS

Coach: Joe Benglan, first year

Record last year: 5-15 Starters returning/lost: 1/4

Reason for optimism: North Gem first-year head coach Joe Benglan starts with seven seniors on the team, and they’re a motivated group after last season’s disappointing record.

Reason for pessimism: The seven seniors, as a whole, have not had a lot of time playing together at the varsity level. Throw in a new coach and an injury to junior post Shycole Simmons that will keep her out to the start the year and there’s a lot of unknowns to begin the 2013-14 season.

Players to watch: G Courtney McBride, Sr.; C Bailey McCulloch, Sr.; F Shycole Simmons, Jr.

ROCKLAND BULLDOGS

Coach: Vern Nelson, 17th year

Record last year: 14-12, lost the third-place game at state

Starters returning/lost: 3.5/1.5

Reason for optimism: Rockland may have been too dependent on star post Savanah Farr a year ago. Farr averaged a double-double (14.7 ppg, 11.4 reb, 4.8 stl), and that led the Bulldogs to the state tournament. But this year’s squad, coach Vern Nelson believes, has the talent to shoulder some of the scoring load. If they can do that, Rockland has a shot to dethrone Mackay, the defending 5-6 District champs.

Reason for pessimism: If Rockland is once again too reliant on Farr, it allows opponents to focus defenses on one player.

Players to watch: C Savanah Farr, Sr.; G Stefani McClanahan, So.; G Tiffini Lee, Sr.; F/W Kelsey Glenn, Sr.; F Cierra O’Brien, Sr.; F Aspen O’Brien, So.; F/W Mesa Farr, Jr.