If a 5A SIC softball team is going to win a state championship for the first time since 2009, it will get a little help from familiar faces.
On Friday and Saturday, all five state tournaments will be in the Treasure Valley, the first time the area has hosted the two largest classifications since the sport was sanctioned by the state in 1997.
The 5A and 4A teams will battle at the Skyview softball complex in Nampa, 3A and 2A are at West Park in Nampa, and 1A at Quad Park in Caldwell.
"I think it definitely will be an advantage," Rocky Mountain coach Missy Nichols said. "We'll be more likely to get bigger crowds, and I think teams ride the emotional highs. Those positive feelings from the crowd will be contagious."
State tournaments at the 5A and 4A levels have rotated between the Coeur d'Alene, Pocatello and Twin Falls areas for nearly 20 years. Idaho High School Activities Association Director John Billetz said that was mainly because the Valley historically is the only host for sports such as track and basketball.
"That was the old criteria, but it's been so long, it was time the Treasure Valley got a chance to see state softball - the facilities are wonderful," Billetz said. "It won't be in the regular rotation with the other sites, but probably every fifth year or so we'd like it here."
District Three teams this year won't have to deal with long road trips, though many players believe they are rewards for a successful season.
Boise coach Brian Barber said, "It's just nice to have it here for once," but noted that having the tournament in other parts of the state fosters camaraderie with three straight days on busses, at games and at the hotel.
"I think having that extra day at home, practicing on your own field, sleeping in your own bed, having that routine you would any other week is a big help, I think," Barber said.
Four 5A SIC teams - Eagle, Boise, Mountain View and Rocky Mountain - qualified for state. Eagle reached the state championship game last year in Coeur d'Alene, but fell to Lake City 10-0. The Mustangs (18-6) boast a pair of Division I-bound players in sophomore Bradie Filmore (Cal) and senior Sierra Stone (Cornell). Eagle was upset in district play by seventh-seeded Boise (13-12), led by pitcher Trinity Cook and catcher Mallory Barber.
Mountain View (22-3) won the district title with a 19-2 win over the Braves, and with five seniors bound for college ball, the Mavericks hope to make a run after missing state last year. Rocky Mountain (14-11) took the district's fourth seed, aided by speedy leadoff hitter Courtney Pestka, going into state hitting better than .400.
The last four 5A state champions have hailed from the panhandle - Post Falls in 2010, Lake City in 2011 and 2013, and Coeur d'Alene in 2012. The latter two are back for this year's tournament.
"I have faith our conference will show up," Nichols said. "But if we want to do it, we're going to have to take out the north."
4A SIC SEEKS TO CONTINUE DOMINANCE
Regardless of where the 4A tournament has been played in recent years, there has been one constant - the champion has come from the SIC. The last team outside the conference to win it all was Madison in 2004.
Again, the trio of teams from the conference in this year's tournament figure to be in the mix for the title. District Three champion Bishop Kelly looks to defend its title, while Kuna and Skyview also return to state.
"A lot of good teams back again," Kuna coach Joe Kleffner said. "Everyone's going to have at least one good pitcher, so whoever is going to win it is who can put the ball in play."
Pitcher Nicole Arizana will be tough to score on for Kuna (20-3), and Skyview (10-14) gets the comfort of playing at home, led by senior stalwart Maryssa Santi and sophomore Kaley Van Hooser, who hit two home runs to punch the Hawks' ticket to state in the district third-place game. The defending champion Knights (18-5) have a young roster with only two seniors, but one of them, pitcher Taylor Falkner is "lights out right now," according to assistant coach Nicole Huttash.
"I think winning district gave us a huge boost of momentum going into state," Huttash said.
HOMEDALE, MALAD, GENESEE EYE REPEATS
Homedale (22-2) has been dominant most of this season as the defending 3A champions, and the Trojans return nearly all of their key players from last year's title team.
Malad (2A) and Genesee (1A) return as defending champions.