Sometimes when you’re not paying attention, a team can sneak up on you.
Then again, with only one senior back — then losing her before the season even started — the Post Falls girls weren’t really expected to challenge for a 5A Region 1 title.
After finishing 5-1 in winning the 5A Inland Empire League, then beating Lewiston at home to win the Region 1 title, it was no secret anymore.
The Trojans are for real.
Picked third in some league polls, Post Falls (19-2) opens the state 5A tournament against Mountain View (20-4) of Meridian today at 12:15 p.m. PST at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa.
“I noticed it, but I didn’t mention it to the kids,” said sixth-year Post Falls coach Marc Allert of being undervalued this season. “But that was fine with me also. That’s the way we kind of wanted it.”
Post Falls started three juniors (Melody Kempton, Bayley Brennan and Macky Morris), a sophomore (Jenna Gardiner) and a freshman (Jacksen McCliment-Call) in the regional title game.
“I didn’t want to put the pressure on these guys early in the season being kind of young anyway,” Allert said. “But we didn’t dwell on talking about winning titles. That was our goal as always — and most people have that anyway — but we really didn’t dwell on it and just took it game by game.”
Post Falls, ranked fourth in the final Idaho media poll, has won five straight games entering state.
“Our goal at the beginning of the season was to be playing our best basketball, now, at this time of year,” Allert said. “And I think we started better than I thought we would. And we progressed and here we are.”
Mountain View, ranked third, has won the past two championships.
“We’ll have to play even better than we have been,” Allert said. “The teams down south are really good. Mountain View is two-time defending champions. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Both Kempton and Brennan have helped lead the Trojans to a state play-in game each of the past two years, coming up short in each instance.
“We’ve wanted this for a long time, and we’re super excited,” said Brennan, a point guard. “Maybe we felt nobody was paying attention to us because we thought everyone was expecting us to be really good next year. But we wanted to be good now. This team is really united and that really helps us on the court way more too.”
“We’ve been waiting for this since my freshman year,” Kempton said. “This whole team has worked so hard for this and it’s good to see that pay off to what it is today. I could not be more happy with my team right now.”
As far as the other teams in the tournament, Post Falls beat Kuna earlier this year.
“We’ve seen a few of them at a tournament in Boise,” Kempton said. “We didn’t get to play some of them, but I’m confident we if we come out and play like we can, we can run away with it.”
Lake City, which advanced as the region’s second seed after winning a play-in game against Borah last Saturday, beat Mountain View 42-28 in the TimberLion tournament on Dec. 22. They lost to Eagle in the final game of the tournament.
Lake City (19-5) opens at state against second-ranked Centennial (20-4) of Boise tonight at 7. The game is a rematch of an opening round game from the 2016 tournament, won by Centennial.
Lake City finished fourth last year.
“They’ll be ready to go, and so will we,” fifth-year Lake City coach Bryan Kelly said. “These girls are determined to go down and make some noise. It should be a solid match, but we’ll be ready to go.”
Sandpoint won the Region 1 title last Thursday, beating Lakeland to advance to state for the fourth straight year. The Bulldogs (10-11) will open at Mountain View High in Meridian against fourth-ranked Preston. Century High of Pocatello is the two-time champion and opens with Bishop Kelly High of Boise.
Timberlake: After claiming its first state 3A title in program history last season, Timberlake High coach Matt Miller said it’s going to be business as usual when the team takes the floor in the opening round tonight at 5:15 PST.
“I don’t think there’s any added pressure this year,” Miller said. “We’ve tried to focus on the things we can control. We really can’t control much of what other teams are doing. We just try to keep the focus inward, and the other teams are going to do what they’re going to do. And we’ll do what we do.”
Top-ranked Timberlake (20-2) opens at state against second-ranked Teton (19-4), a team the Tigers beat 75-64 in the semifinals of last year’s tournament, also at Middleton.
“It was a great game last year,” said Miller, whose team won its other two games at state by a combined 77 points. “We’ve kept tabs on them as far as some scores go, and watched them play as much as we can. We don’t have a lot of information on them, but they’re a really good team. They’re a tough matchup for us because they’re a little big and we’re more guard orientated. It’s definitely two contrasting styles for sure.”
“I feel like we’ve got more expectations on us this year,” said Timberlake senior forward Keelie Lawler. “Our final year, I feel like we’ve got to go out with a bang. Teton’s going to be tough, and all of our games are going to be tough. It’s going to be about us sticking together, believing and doing the things that our coach wants us to do.”
In an effort to challenge the team, Timberlake scheduled 5A programs Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston, as well as a home-and-home with Sandpoint. Timberlake beat Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston and defeated Sandpoint twice, and lost 61-58 at Post Falls on Nov. 29.
“Hopefully those games weren’t so long ago that the girls forgot about it,” Miller said. “That’s why we did the schedule that we did. We wanted to play some really tough games and really good competition, and big competition as far as size goes. Hopefully we can fall back on those games.”
Timberlake had six players named to the All-Intermountain League team after winning a third straight district title last Friday at Lakeland High in Rathdrum.
“It’s a huge weapon,” Miller said of the team’s depth. “We’ve got a lot of kids that we feel we can put on the court and not lose much. It’s not 12 or 13 bodies, but we’re still definitely a deep team. Everyone’s contributing and doing their part.”
St. Maries: In an effort to test themselves, the St. Maries girls stepped up the competition a little bit in the past couple of years, playing 5A Coeur d’Alene in 2015 and a home-and-home with 4A Sandpoint this year, in an effort to become more battle-tested should they get to the state tournament.
St. Maries (15-4), ranked fourth, opens the 2A tournament today against fifth-ranked Cole Valley Christian (16-5) at Bishop Kelly High in Boise.
“They’re a quality team and play tough defense,” seventh-year St. Maries coach Jay Sines said. “They’ve got a big girl that’s pretty deadly inside and have some good outside shooters. I’ve seen a few box scores and I’m expecting them to be able to shoot the ball as well.”
Top-ranked Ririe likely awaits the winner in the semifinals.
As far as playing some of those higher classification schools, Sines believed it gave his team some confidence.
“The girls know they can play at a high level,” Sines said. “We beat Coeur d’Alene and Lakeland, and that builds confidence.”
St. Maries hasn’t won a game at state since 1990.
“The girls have taken the attitude that they don’t just want to be there, they want to compete,” Sines said. “They actually want to do something. I always ask them what the goal at the beginning of the season is. This year, it’s a little different and they want to win it all. And there’s nothing wrong with having lofty goals. Just getting there is the first step. You’ve got to get there and win that first one.”
West Jefferson, last year’s champion, failed to qualify.
1A Division II
Lakeside: They had to take a different road than in the past two years, but the Lakeside girls are back at state for the third-straight year after finishing fourth the previous two seasons.
“We’re extremely happy,” third-year Lakeside coach Chris Dohrman said. “It’s a tough task to do it each year. The girls have worked hard to get that opportunity.”
Third-ranked Lakeside (16-2) opens the 1A Division II tournament today against top-ranked Butte County (21-0) at 12:15 p.m. PST at Nampa High.
“They’re a good basketball team and they haven’t been challenged this year,” Dohrman said of Butte County. “We’ve got the players that can score against that kind of pressure. It’s just a matter of going down there and seeing what we can do.”
Genesis Prep: The unranked Jaguars (13-5) of Post Falls will open at the 1A Division II tournament against Rockland (17-8), which advanced with a play-in win last Saturday.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” second-year Genesis Prep coach Debbie Holte said. “Even though they’re young, I’m excited for them to get there. They work hard in practice just like every other team. I’m so proud of them.”
Genesis Prep has two juniors, six sophomores and four freshmen on its roster.
“It’s unbelievable,” sophomore post Bella Murekatete said. “We’re excited. We wanted this so bad.”
Richfield, the 2016 champion, failed to qualify.
1A Division I
Lapwai (20-1), which split in two games with Timberlake this season, returns to defend its title.