Girls High School Basketball

Who will return 4A SIC girls basketball to prominence? Meet the top candidates this winter

Middleton’s Lexi Mitchell jumps into the arms of a teammate after winning the 2017 4A state championship.
Middleton’s Lexi Mitchell jumps into the arms of a teammate after winning the 2017 4A state championship. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

The Southern Idaho Conference long stood as the state’s toughest at the 4A level, placing at least one team in the state finals 10 years in a row.

That streak came to an end last season as perennial powers Middleton and Bishop Kelly fell in the semifinals. With a fresh crop of talent, coaches and former teams joining the conference, we break down the players and squads that can return the league to its glory days.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Lexi Mitchell, G/F, Middleton

The 5-10 senior has made the 4A All-Idaho second team the past two years with her ability to dominate the glass. Her frame gives her a head start, but it’s her nose for the ball and athleticism that make her a nightmare in the paint who averaged 10.6 points and 9.6 rebounds last season.

“She is a big, athletic kid that moves incredibly well for her size,” Caldwell coach Ashley Green said. “... She could easily average double digits in scoring and rebounding.”

Zoey Moore, G, Middleton

The junior guard burst onto the scene as a freshman, stepping up as the Vikings’ leading scorer at 8.7 points per game on their way to a state title. She averaged 8.9 points last season while taking on a host of other responsibilities, but she remains one of the league’s most dangerous scorers.

“Her outside shooting range and ability to score from anywhere on the floor make her a difficult matchup,” Kuna coach Dennis Jordan said.

Jalen Callendar, G/F, Caldwell

Battling back from a knee injury, the inside-out threat led the Cougars in points (13.0) and rebounds (8.5) per game a year ago. Now that she’s back to full strength, her ability to stretch defenses, put the ball on the floor and muscle up inside make her a matchup nightmare.

“She will pose a threat along with her teammate (Katrina Vallejo) as a tandem and force to be reckoned with,” Ridgevue coach Amos Lee said. “They connect well and make it hard to just knock out one player.”

Bishop Kelly Gabby Keefe.JPG
Bishop Kelly’s Gabby Keefe will take on a larger role this winter after the Knights lost their top two scorers to graduation. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

Gabby Keefe, F, Bishop Kelly

The 5-11 senior forward flew under the radar last season as the Knights’ third option, averaging 5.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Expect those numbers to skyrocket as she takes over a larger role. Her strength in the paint and outside shot will pose problems for defenses all season.

“She has a really solid midrange game, so you have to play her honest or pick your poison,” Nampa coach Jack Dooley said.

Can’t see the above preseason coaches’ poll on your phone? Click here for the full poll.

THE FAVORITE

MIDDLETON VIKINGS

Last season: 20-7, 12-2 4A SIC

Coach: Nichole Williamson, first season

Returning starters: Lexi Mitchell, sr., G; Zoey Moore, jr., G

Williamson has large shoes to fill after former coach Andy Jones built the Vikings into a perennial power before leaving for Timberline. But she inherits a team ready to compete right away.

Middleton has depth and size at every position, giving it multiple ways to attack opponents and build its defense. Mitchell and Moore give the Vikings two of the top players in the league at both ends. But Middleton will have to learn a new system under a new coach.

THE CONTENDERS

BISHOP KELLY KNIGHTS

Last season: 20-7, 12-2 4A SIC

Coach: Derek McCormick, 12th season

Returning starters: Olivia Kent, sr., PG; Gabby Keefe, sr., P; Monica Behrend, sr., W/P

Graduation robbed the Knights of the two-time state player of the year, Lydia Nieto (13.5 ppg), and their leading scorer and rebounder, Theresa Reeping (15.9 ppg, 7.1 rebounds). But Bishop Kelly still returns a host of fast and athletic guards to fuel their uptempo system.

McCormick said he’s looking for someone, or a group of someones, to step up and shoulder the scoring load. But the defensive end should remain strong with a crew of buzzing guards to apply pressure.

Caldwell Jalen Callender.JPG
Jalen Callender helped lead Caldwell to the state tournament last year, a spot the Cougars are trying to return to again under a new coach. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

CALDWELL COUGARS

Last season: 18-7, 11-3 4A SIC

Coach: Ashley Green, first season

Returning starters: Jalen Callender, sr., G/F; Julia Martinez, sr., G; Kat Vallejo, jr., G; Jade Martinez, jr., G

Green takes over one of the Valley’s up-and-coming programs, one with loads of returning talent. Vallejo (10.4 ppg, 3.1 assists) earned first-team all-conference honors last season, and Callender (10.7 ppg, 6.4 rebounds) was a second-team selection.

The Cougars will continue to pressure defenses all over the floor, using their long list of quick and athletic guards to throw fresh bodies at opponents and feed their run-and-gun offense.

KUNA KAVEMEN

Last season: 12-11, 8-8 5A SIC

Coach: Dennis Jordan, first season

Returning starters: None

The Kavemen hit the reset button in more ways than one. They return to the 4A SIC with a new coach, new coaching staff and only four returning varsity players, including just two seniors.

All that youth and inexperience has Kuna starting the season with question marks all over the floor. But Jordan said a stout defense always remains the top priority, and two years at the 5A level has only hardened the program from top to bottom.

THE DARK HORSES

VALLIVUE FALCONS

Last season: 11-13, 6-8 4A SIC

Coach: Darrin Shindle, third season

Returning starters: Tawni Morrison, sr., W; Hattie Hruza, sr., W

The Falcons return a mix of athletic guards to fuel their transition, up-tempo offense, led by Morrison (10.9 ppg) and Hruza (7.4 ppg). But Vallivue will have to incorporate seven new players onto the varsity roster, including three freshmen.

Shindle said it could take awhile to work out the chemistry between all the new pieces.

COLUMBIA WILDCATS

Last season: 1-21, 0-16 5A SIC

Coach: Laurie Kiester, fourth season

Returning starters: Karen Vega, sr., P; Molly Simpson, jr., W

The Wildcats took their lumps at the 5A level last season, winning just one game against the Skyview JV. But a drop down to 4A should help the program find more success.

Kiester said her team will rely on quick and aggressive guards because it doesn’t have much height outside of Vega. But she remains a force in the paint, averaging 8.3 points and 8.0 rebounds, second in the 5A SIC last year. She’s just beginning to find herself as a player as she didn’t start playing basketball until entering high school.

THE UNDERDOGS

NAMPA BULLDOGS

Last season: 3-19, 2-14 4A SIC

Coach: Jack Dooley, first season

Returning starters: Sativa Campbell, jr., F; Hanna Seabaugh, jr., G

Like Columbia, Nampa struggled at the 5A level, winning just five league games the past three years, four of them against Columbia. But a new coach, a new high-octane offense and an incoming freshman have the Bulldogs eyeing a turnaround.

Guard Piper Curry has already made a name for herself on the club circuit with her ability to score from all over the floor. She’s one of four talented underclassmen Nampa will call up this season to the varsity team.

EMMETT HUSKIES

Last season: 7-18, 3-11 4A SIC

Coach: Stu Peterson, first season

Returning starters: Gemma LaVergne, jr., PG; Holly Goslin, jr., F; Jazzy Jenkins, so., G

Graduation robbed the Huskies of their top two leading scorers in Lillie Smith (15.7 ppg) and Lexi Child (11.0 ppg). So Emmett will turn to 5-11 junior point guard Gemma LaVergne (7.6 ppg) to lead the offense.

Her mix of basketball IQ, ball-handling skills and long-range shooting makes her a weapon all over the floor as first-year coach Stu Peterson establishes his program.

RIDGEVUE WARHAWKS

Last season: 2-21, 0-14 4A SIC

Coach: Amos Lee, first season

Returning starters: Olivia Tolman, sr., F; Stephanie Castillo, sr., G

The Warhawks have struggled since the program started two years ago, going a combined 3-43 and 0-28 in league play. Now they must replace the 4A SIC’s leading scorer and rebounder in Bukky Ogunrinola (17.7 ppg, 12.3 rebounds).

Lee, a former Meridian coach, takes over the rebuild and said his team is a scrappy, hustling bunch with strong freshman and sophomore classes that could take over the program sooner rather than later.

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