For years, Bishop Kelly has dominated the 4A Southern Idaho Conference (seven straight district titles) and the state (six straight appearances in the finals). The Knights remain a heavy favorite in the preseason coaches’ poll, but Middleton has narrowed the gap and experienced Kuna figures to mount a challenge.
BISHOP KELLY KNIGHTS
Coach: Curtis Eisenberger, seventh season
Last year: 15-4-0, 10-0-0 4A SIC
Returning all-conference: Aubree Chatterton, jr., M (second team); Kylee Atkins, jr., GK (honorable mention).
Breakdown: The Knights graduated the conference’s player of the year, Maddie Minnaert, so they are searching for a new scorer. The Knights also return eight starters, some with multiple years in the varsity lineup. “Those players all played important roles as freshmen and sophomores and are now one year older and all return from an accomplished club season,” Eisenberger said.
Coach: Eric Garza, second season
Last year: 5-12-1, 2-7-1 4A SIC
Returning all-conference: None.
Breakdown: Graduation robbed Caldwell of 10 seniors and six four-year starters, and the Cougars replace them with only three seniors this fall. “This group needs games,” Garza said. “We will need to adapt to the speed of the conference and will need to adapt to the physicality in order to make a deep run.” Garza can rely on goalkeeper Lita Forse, entering her third year in net, as well as three returning center midfielders and attacking options, led by junior Hailey Horsewood.
Coach: Candice Thomas, first season
Last year: 10-12-1, 3-6-1 4A SIC
Returning all-conference: Sidney Sandburg, sr., M (first team); Ayeesha Ononaiye, jr., D (first team).
Breakdown: Thomas said she’ll emphasize a possession-based approach, breaking from Kuna’s more direct attack in the past. Sandburg, who is committed to Army, will facilitate much of the possession as one of nine starters returning. She’ll also feed a front line featuring Abbie Wilson and Lexie Hibler. “Lexie Hibler is going to make a name for herself this season,” Thomas said. “I expect a goal-scoring explosion.”
Coach: Rene Gutierrez, second season
Last year: 14-7-0, 7-3-0 4A SIC
Returning all-conference: Bailey Crofts, sr., M (first team); Katie Farris, sr., M (second team); Cassidy Nelson, sr., D (second team).
Breakdown: The Vikings have mounted the most serious threat to BK the past two years, pushing the Knights in back-to-back district title games. Middleton starts the year searching to replace four-year striker Terrika Nelson, who scored 28 goals in 2014 and 106 in her career. The Vikings should remain strong in the midfield with Crofts, a controlling option, and Farris, a two-way threat. Gutierrez knows goals will have to come from multiple players instead of one.
MTN. HOME TIGERS
Coach: Curtis Viall, first season
Last year: 3-13-1, 1-8-1 4A SIC
Returning all-conference: Christa Lewis, sr., M/D (first team).
Breakdown: The Tigers often started six sophomores a year ago, forming a junior class that makes up the bulk of seven returning starters. “We have a strong group of juniors who have played together for a long time and have good team chemistry,” Viall said. Lewis, a commit to Division II Western Colorado State, leads a defensive group short on varsity experience. And Mountain Home needs to replace Madison Roache, a first-team all-conference midfielder now at Boise.
Coach: Jason Obert, second season
Last year: 9-9-1, 5-4-1 4A SIC
Returning all-conference: Paige Kubista, sr., GK (first team); CeAnna Benner, jr., D (second team).
Breakdown: A sophomore-heavy group turns into a junior-led squad as the Hawks seek to end a four-year streak of missing state. Kubista locks down the net again as an aggressive goalkeeper. “We have a small group of seniors, so our younger players have to step up and fill the void,” Obert said.