The traditional power balance in the 4A Southern Idaho Conference is poised for change as Kuna jumps up to the 5A SIC, while Vallivue and Emmett return to the classification.
The league’s softball coaches may cheer the exit of Kuna — the reigning District Three champ and a perennial frontrunner — but the Falcons and Huskies won’t provide an easy out, either.
Middleton remains the undisputed favorite after collecting its third state championship in program history last season.
Below, we pick the top teams and players to watch this spring.
Three of Middleton’s four losses last season came against Kuna. With the Kavemen no longer in the picture and standout pitcher Lainey Lyle back for her sophomore season — along with seven other starters — the Vikings are armed to defend their state title.
The Knights have 10 state championships since 1997 — the most recent in 2015 — which is more than any other program in the state. Five starters return from last season, but Bishop Kelly must adjust to a new style of coaching under Missy Nichols, who replaces Judy Crandell.
The Falcons finished the regular season in the middle of the pack in the 5A SIC a year ago, and all but one starter is back. Vallivue did lose some depth, however, with the opening of Ridgevue. The Falcons will lean on their infield, which returns every starter.
THE DARK HORSE
Emmett was the District Three runner-up in the 3A Snake River Valley last season behind two-time defending state champion Homedale. The Huskies then finished third at state. Emmett was one of only two teams to defeat Middleton last season, winning 3-2 on March 18, 2016.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
LAINEY LYLE, MIDDLETON
Lyle was named the co-player of the year in the 4A Southern Idaho Conference last season. Through Thursday, Lyle already has one no-hitter and a three-hit shutout.
KAYLA VANFOSSEN, SKYVIEW
The four-year starter is a two-time all-4A SIC first-team selection at center field. “She can do it all — bat lead off, steal bases, bunt or bat third and hit for power,” Skyview coach Steven Michaelson said.
KONA BUSTOS, VALLIVUE
Bustos made the all-5A SIC second team last season as a sophomore. The three-year starter at shortstop and second base has hit over .400 every varsity season.
RILEY JONES, BISHOP KELLY
Although she is making her varsity debut this season as a freshman, Jones is expected to be a force for the Knights in the circle and at the plate.
ALEAH MENDIOLA, MIDDLETON
A returning starter in the infield and an all-4A SIC second-team selection, the senior has signed to play for the College of Idaho beginning this fall.
RYAN FLOYD, MOUNTAIN HOME
Floyd was a standout for the winless Tigers last season, making the all-4A SIC first team at utility. She’ll split time between shortstop and pitcher as a junior.
4A SIC coaches’ poll
1. Middleton (7)
2. Bishop Kelly
8. Mountain Home
Notes: First-place votes in parentheses. One coach did not vote.