TIMBERLINE lost a single conference match during the 2015 regular season and claimed the district championship.
Five starters are back from that team, and the Wolves are off to a 6-0 start behind the standout senior duo of setter Abbey Schwager and outside hitter Brooke Foster.
The Wolves’ well-rounded attack and experienced setter earned them the conference nod with seven first-place votes in the coaches’ poll, and they have lived up to that billing by only dropping three sets (excluding tournaments).
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Although it did not receive any first-place votes in the coaches’ poll, ROCKY MOUNTAIN appears to be the favorite to upend Timberline if it can overcome the loss of setter Shannan Cambron, who is out with an injury.
Sophomore Sydney Frith has stepped in in Cambron’s absence, and the Grizzlies are the only other 5A SIC squad with an unblemished record.
BOISE finished the 2015 regular season in a four-way tie for fifth and failed to qualify for state. But with seven seniors on their roster and at least three college recruits, the Braves are poised to return to state for the first time since 2013. The Braves’ only loss this season was in five sets to Timberline.
After consistently finishing among the top three in the 4A SIC, KUNA moves to 5A this season. The Kavemen took fourth at state in 2015 but must replace 4A SIC player of the year Nikki Cook.
Junior setter McKenzie Lee is the lone returning starter for EAGLE, last year’s regular-season champion, after outside hitter Abby Mangum tore her ACL during the state basketball tournament this spring.
CENTENNIAL had the best finish among District Three teams at the 2015 state tournament, losing a five-set match to Bonneville for third place. The Patriots graduated nine players from that team but return one of the league’s top players in senior middle blocker Allison O’Harra.
COLUMBIA won just four conference matches last season, but the Wildcats are already halfway to their 2015 win total behind a scrappy defense led by libero Rachael Driskell.
Four starters return for 2015 state runner-up SKYVIEW, which has won five straight district titles and 11 in the past 13 years.
The Hawks earned seven-of-eight first-place votes in the coaches’ poll and are coming off an undefeated run in the gold bracket at the Rocky Mountain Champions Classic in Utah last weekend, a first in program history.
A perennial state contender, the Hawks are still seeking their first state championship. Century of Pocatello has won six titles in a row.
MIDDLETON, which received the other first-place vote, returns three components from last year’s state-qualifying team — middle Marissa Hilliard, setter Dakotah Walker and libero Hope DeLeon — but has a first-year coach in Kamille Crawford.
Only a single point separated BISHOP KELLY and Middleton in the coaches’ poll, and the Knights have five starters back and are 3-1 in league play.
Newcomer EMMETT has five returning starters and moves up from the 3A classification, where it finished third at state last season. The Huskies have one of the tallest players in the league in 6-foot-3 middle blocker Mahra McLeod.
VALLIVUE drops down to the 4A classification from the 5A SIC after winning two district titles in the past four seasons and a third-place trophy at state in 2014.
Michelle O’Connell, who previously coached at Vallivue, takes over at RIDGEVUE, which opened in Nampa this fall but will face growing pains with mostly freshmen and sophomores in the lineup.
5A SIC PLAYERS TO WATCH
Brooke Foster, Timberline
The 6-foot senior outside hitter is committed to Montana and plays all the way around for the defending district champs. “When she is on, she changes what is happening on the court for both sides,” Boise coach Kyle McMorrow said.
McKenzie Lee, Eagle
A second team all-5A Southern Idaho Conference selection at setter as a sophomore, Lee is the lone returning starter for the state-qualifying Mustangs. “McKenzie is a very smart setter and has a really nice touch on the ball,” Mountain View coach Allison Sletager said.
Allison O’Harra, Centennial
Joins Foster as the only other returning all-5A SIC first-team pick after leading the Patriots to a third-place finish at state. She has committed to Pepperdine. “She is a great middle. Very athletic and a team leader,” Nampa coach Gina Radford said.
Abbey Schwager, Timberline
The returning starting setter for the Wolves received all-5A SIC honorable mention recognition last season. “There is not a better setter in our conference,” Boise coach Kyle McMorrow said. “She is the real deal.” Schwager, a senior, is the daughter of former Eagle High coach Paul Schwager, who led the Mustangs to five state championships.
Maddie Wolter, Boise
An all-5A SIC honorable mention selection last season as a junior outside hitter, Wolter is committed to Carroll College as a libero. “She can change a game in so many different ways — passing, serving, defense or hitting,” Boise coach Kyle McMorrow said.
4A SIC PLAYERS TO WATCH
Olivia Bradley, Skyview
The junior is a three-year starter at middle blocker, giving the five-time defending 4A District Three champ a strong block. “Great hitter and blocker,” Middleton coach Kamille Crawford said of the 2015 all-4A SIC honorable mention pick.
Marissa Hilliard, Middleton
The only returning all-4A SIC first-team selection is a dominant force at middle blocker in her fourth season as a starter. “Very quick and athletic middle. Very difficult to stop defensively,” Skyview coach Kevin Murphy said.
Mahra McLeod, Emmett
Played in the 3A classification last season, earning all-3A SRV first-team recognition, and is among the tallest players at 6-foot-3. “She can attack off one foot, which is the hardest set to defend,” Bishop Kelly coach Alisha Young said.
Dani Nay, Skyview
An early front-runner for 4A SIC player of the year, the outside hitter landed on the all-4A SIC second team a year ago. “Solid, strong player all-around who really controls the tempo of the match,” Emmett coach Dana Williams said.
Team (1st-place votes)
1. Timberline (7)
2. Rocky Mountain
4. Kuna (1)
5. Eagle (1)
8. Mountain View
9. Capital (1)
Note: Two coaches did not vote
Team (1st-place votes)
1. Skyview (7)
2. Middleton (1)
3. Bishop Kelly
6. Mountain Home