New year, new coach, new system. But same result.
The Middleton High girls basketball team beat Caldwell 38-30 in the 4A District 3 championship game Thursday at Kuna High, earning Middleton (22-2) its second district title in the past three years and its seventh in the past 11.
Another title was no guarantee as Middleton entered the season in uncharted territory. Head coach Andy Jones, who built the Vikings into a state juggernaut, left in the offseason after 16 seasons, leaving incoming coach Nichole Williamson with monumental shoes to fill.
But the Vikings proved their championship tradition didn’t leave with Jones.
“The girls have really bought in since Day 1, and it’s been awesome,” Williamson said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more out of them. … I just thank them every day for letting me be a part of the ride.”
The district title clinches Middleton the Southern Idaho Conference’s top spot in next week’s state tournament, where the Vikings face Mountain Home (19-5) at 1:15 p.m. Thursday at Timberline High.
[Related: 4A girls basketball state tournament bracket]
Defending state champ and No. 1-ranked Century (24-0) looms as the heavy favorite and a possible semifinal matchup. But with several key contributors from Middleton’s 2017 state championship team — Lexi Mitchell, Zoey Moore, Haley Robinett and Jozie Crawford — still on the roster, the third-ranked Vikings have set their eyes on a state championship since Day 1.
“We’ve done it before, and we know we’re capable of it,” said Mitchell, who led Middleton with 11 points, seven rebounds and four steals in the district title game. “We know how far we can go and how high we can set the bar. That’s what we’re striving for.”
Robinett admitted the Vikings went through a transition period when Williamson first took over the team. She brought a new offense, new defensive rotations and a new style to a program that had a singular voice for 16 years.
The Vikings kept racking up wins though, including their 13th in a row for another district title. Middleton jumped out to a 10-0 lead to start the game, then watched Caldwell cut the deficit to one entering the fourth quarter. But Middleton’s defense suffocated the Cougars the rest of the way, holding them to four points in the fourth quarter.
“I would say the beginning of the season was a little bit rough as we were trying to figure out how to run our offenses and all that kind of stuff,” Robinett said. “But slowly we’ve just got better and better. Now we can run it without problems.”
Caldwell (19-5) will also compete in next week’s state tournament as the SIC’s second seed. It faces the yet-to-be-determined Northern Idaho champ (Lakeland or Moscow) at 6:15 p.m. Thursday at Timberline.