College coaches around the West have found their way to the Treasure Valley’s fertile recruiting grounds. Three girls in the 5A Southern Idaho Conference enter the season committed to Division I programs, and several more likely will before their careers are over.
But will all that college-level talent result in a state title?
Eagle carried the league’s banner last season, entering the state tournament ranked as the No. 25 team in the country and having two Division I signees. But the Mustangs fell to Post Falls in the title game, snapping the SIC’s streak of three consecutive state titles.
We examine the top teams and players to watch this season as the Boise-based league aims to return to the top of the podium.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Meghan Boyd, G, Eagle
Eagle runs an unmatched, full-court offense. The University of Denver commit makes it all work, finding open teammates in the perfect spot, attacking the basket and stretching defenses with her long-range shot.
She scored 8.6 points per game last winter, adding 2.6 assists.
“She reminds me of Larry Bird,” Rocky Mountain coach William Rodgers said. “She does a lot of things well. She can shoot the 3 or mid-range, sees the floor well, and creates things for herself and her teammates.”
Peyton McFarland, C, Boise
No one in the 5A SIC can match up one-on-one with Boise’s 6-foot-4 junior center. She towers in the paint, eliminating any chances of driving to the hoop. Her athleticism makes her a weapon in the full court. And her soft hands and smooth shot have her entering her junior season as one of the state’s top players.
She racked up 10.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks as a sophomore last winter.
“She continues to grow and improve her skills, which makes her scary,” Meridian coach Matthew Creech said.
Ava Ranson, G, Timberline
The Montana State commit ranked second in the SIC with 14.6 points per game last season. But she’s no one-trick pony. She also led the league with 4.2 assists at the head of a high-octane offense.
“Ava possesses a scorer’s mentality and has the ability to take over a game offensively,” Boise coach Kim Brydges said. “Her range and her length makes her difficult to guard.”
Darian White, G, Mountain View
White is another Montana State commit, and no defender has proved they can stay in front of the senior when she puts the ball on the floor. Her athleticism and killer instinct on both ends of the floor allowed her to earn a spot on the 5A All-Idaho second team after averaging 12.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 2.5 assists.
“She’s so quick and explosive,” Capital coach Ron Marthe said. “She attacks the basket and shoots well from the perimeter. She’s a dynamic defender who gets in the passing lanes, causing havoc for your offensive schemes.”
Can’t see the above preseason coaches’ poll on your phone? Click here for the full poll.
MOUNTAIN VIEW MAVERICKS
Last season: 19-8, 12-4 5A SIC
Coach: Connie Skogrand, 16th season
Returning starters: Darian White, sr., G; Laila Saenz, jr., G; Trinity Slocum, so., G; Emma Anthony, sr., F
The state’s defending third-place finisher remains a guard-oriented team with a bevy of fast and talented players to apply pressure on the defensive end and get out in transition. White leads the way, but Slocum (9.0 ppg) and Saenz (8.0 ppg) both can shoulder the scoring load.
Adding to its backcourt riches, Mountain View finally has an inside presence to build around with two returning posts, Anthony and Braelyn Whitelock. Six-foot freshman Naya Ogukwu also gives the Mavs some needed muscle inside.
Last season: 26-1, 16-0 5A SIC
Coach: Cody Pickett, sixth season
Returning starters: Meghan Boyd, sr., G; Jaimee McKinnie, sr., G/F
The Mustangs fell one win shy of a perfect season and their first state title. But even after losing two Division I players to graduation, Eagle has the talent to contend for a championship again.
Boyd headlines a group of eight returning players from last year’s state runner-up. She and Eliza deVera (4.6 ppg) will combine to form one of the league’s most potent backcourt duos. And McKinnie (8.7 pgg, 5.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists) can hurt opponents in a myriad of ways and from nearly every position.
Last season: 16-12, 10-6 5A SIC
Coach: Kim Brydges, 14th season
Returning starters: Sydney Davis, sr., G; Allison Ross, so., G; Claire Bonnet, sr., G; Madison Williams, jr., F; Peyton McFarland, jr., C
The 6-4 McFarland will draw all the attention of opposing coaches and fans. But the Braves have the weapons at every position to punish any team that tries to cheat toward McFarland in the middle. Davis (9.9 ppg), Ross (6.7 ppg) and Williams (6.7 ppg) can all erupt at any given moment.
Brydges said this is the deepest squad she’s had in 14 years at Boise, allowing her to ratchet up the defensive pressure without wearing down her own team.
Last season: 12-11, 8-8 5A SIC
Coach: Andy Jones, first season
Returning starters: Elena McHargue, sr., G; Ava Ranson, jr., G; Ashlyn Ascuena-Mercil, sr., G
For a program that hasn’t reached the state tournament since 2005, the Wolves have created a lot of buzz. Much of that comes from the hiring of Andy Jones, who won six state titles at Middleton and Caldwell. He built Middleton into a perennial state powerhouse, going 317-89 (.781) in 16 years with the Vikings.
Jones inherits the top two scorers in the 5A SIC last season in McHargue (16.2 ppg) and Ranson (14.6 ppg). But his teams were always at their best when built around a suffocating defense. The Wolves also must find a replacement for starting center Emma Ellinghouse (10.3 ppg, 7.3 rebounds), who tore an ACL during the summer.
THE DARK HORSES
ROCKY MOUNTAIN GRIZZLIES
Last season: 5-17, 2-14 5A SIC
Coach: William Rodgers, first season
Returning starters: Riley Frith, sr., W; Mandy Berg, sr., G/W; Jada Reed, jr., G
The Grizzlies have fallen on hard times recently, failing to make it to state the past three years. But Rocky Mountain gets an infusion of fresh blood with Rodgers, who snapped Caldwell’s 14-year state tournament drought in 2016 and is the reigning 4A SIC coach of the year.
Rodgers said he inherited an athletic squad that gives the Grizzlies lots of weapons defensively. But he’ll have to install toughness on both ends of the court to get Rocky Mountain back on top.
Last season: 8-14, 5-11 5A SIC
Coach: Matthew Creech, third season
Returning starters: Brittney Hansen, sr., G; Jaleesa Lawrence, so., F; Trinity Berger, jr., F; Graci Kolka, jr., G; Sophia Klinger, jr., F
The Warriors remain one of the smaller teams in the SIC. But what they lack in size they make up for in experience with all five starters and seven contributors returning from last season.
Sophomore Jaleesa Lawrence, last season’s SIC-leading rebounder, headlines the group after averaging 10.3 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. Meridian also got an infusion of talent in senior Deeann White, who averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds last season at Alaska’s Ninilchik High in the state’s smallest classification.
Last season: 15-11, 8-8 5A SIC
Coach: Candace Thornton, third season
Returning starters: Kayla Carlson, sr., F; Abigail Nichols, jr., G; Mallory Hatfield, so., G
The Patriots lost their leader in points, rebounds and assists (Ami T’ia) to graduation. But sophomore Mallory Hatfield should ease the transition after scoring 10.1 points per game as a freshman.
Thornton said because Centennial won’t have a lot of varsity experience on the floor to start the season, her group will get after it on the defensive end with a swarming mentality.
Last season: 19-7, 13-3 5A SIC
Coach: Whitney Kenyon, first season
Returning starters: Nyalam Thabach, sr., P
The Lions hit a high mark last season, winning their first state tournament game in 12 years. And the 6-2 Thabach, who has Division I offers from UC Santa Barbara and Northern Colorado, remains one of the league’s most dominating inside forces.
But the cupboard at Borah remains bare of much experience outside of her. Kenyon, a former Bishop Kelly assistant, said she had to bring up four talented freshmen to the varsity roster.
Last season: 18-7, 12-4 5A SIC
Coach: Ron Marthe, first season
Returning starters: Lauren Baumgartner, sr., PG
The Eagles made state last season for the first time since 2014, but they’ll have to start all over with a new coach and four new starters.
Baumgartner remains one of the league’s top point guards and is drawing interest from NAIA and Division III programs. But Marthe said Capital will have to establish a new identity on the fly after graduating so many three- and four-year starters.
Last season: 9-14, 6-8 4A SIC
Coach: Cindy Pasta, 23rd season
Returning starters: Kelsey Higgins, sr., W
The Hawks move up to the 5A level searching for their identity. Pasta starts the season with a young lineup devoid of much size compared to the 5A SIC powers. But she said the Hawks have a mix of quick and competitive athletes that should keep them in games.