Sports

North Idaho teams stellar at winter sports

It can’t be overstated how impressive it was that Priest River captured boys and girls state basketball championships in the same year.

Priest River did something no other 3A school has done. Overall, the girls/boys double has been pulled off just six other times since the state activities association started governing state girls basketball tourneys in 1976 – twice in 5A, once in 4A and three times in 2A.

When you also consider that Priest River’s wrestling team captured a district title, it’s been a winter the west Bonner County school won’t soon forget, or perhaps match.

Here’s a look back at the winter’s top accomplishments in North Idaho.

Girls basketball

The third straight 5A state championship for Coeur d’Alene was arguably the most difficult to come by.

While many thought the Vikings would have no challenge getting back to state for a sixth straight season, advancing to the championship game, let alone winning again, was far from a given.

CdA (22-4) had to rally from a seven-point deficit to knock off Inland Empire League rival Lewiston (21-3) in the title game.

The Vikings had big shoes to fill this year, graduating one of their most talented senior classes in recent years including replacing three starters off an undefeated team. Most of the returning experience centered around returning 6-foot-3 junior post Carli Rosenthal and senior wing Dayna Drager.

Senior guard Amanda Buttrey, with limited varsity experience, stepped up nicely to fill one of the starting positions. Senior 6-3 post Kelsey Bybee was projected to give the Vikings a 1-2 punch in the post that would have been unstoppable. But for a second straight year, Bybee was plagued by injury and illness. Late in the season she left the team under mutual agreement, CdA coach Dale Poffenroth said.

Youth ended up being served, and it ended up playing big roles. Junior guard Heather Baughman filled another starting spot and freshman forward Kendalyn Brainard nabbed the final starting job.

Brainard didn’t flinch. While she made a youthful mistake here and there, she improved by leaps and bounds as the season progressed and played like she had been to the Idaho Center in Nampa before when the state tournament rolled around.

Then at state, a relative unknown, freshman wing/guard Caelyn Orlandi, came off the bench to provide not only starter-like minutes, but starter-like production. I named her to my unofficial all-tournament second team.

Orlandi should be a big-time contributor the next three years.

And there’s more talent in the wings. CdA played in the state final for a fifth straight season. With Rosenthal anchoring the middle – and considering she’s bound to add some polish to her game and will be pursued by a number of NCAA Division I schools – the Vikings should be a lock to earn a seventh straight trip to state. I won’t go so far as to say CdA will pull a four-peat, but I would be so bold to predict the Vikings should make it back to the title game.

The most unheralded player for CdA this season, in my opinion, was Drager. She made a sacrifice for the team. Much more comfortable on the wing and closer to the basket in rebounding situations, she had to play out of position at point guard. That affected her offensive contributions at times. Still, she played her always-stellar defense.

At the start of the season, qualifying for state would have been a realistic goal for Priest River (19-6). And even challenging for a state trophy would have been pragmatic.

A state title? Nothing more than a dream. The Spartans believed in themselves and capped a storybook season that few, other than themselves, thought could be realized.

Kellogg (18-9) finished third in league, but knocked off league champ Timberlake to earn a state berth. A runner-up finish at state was an implausible ending.

Boys basketball

Post Falls (21-5) kept the 5A state championship in the north for a second straight year.

Just like eventual state champ Lewiston a year ago, Post Falls had to win a loser-out game to earn a state berth. But once the Trojans arrived at state – just like Lewiston a year ago – they weren’t going to be denied.

The Priest River girls had two weeks to celebrate before they had to share the key to the town with the boys. Behind seniors Jake Weimer and Eric Holbrook and junior Max Salesky, the PR boys (22-3) cruised at state.

I liked what Weimer had to say following the title game: “It’s really special, especially because the girls did it this year, too. My freshman year, there was a whole different mentality at our school, but I think we’ve managed to turn it around to a winning mentality.”

Wrestling

Coeur d’Alene captured its first state championship – leaving no doubt.

Thirteen of 17 Vikings placed in the top six. Five Vikings reached the finals.

CdA will return 11 state qualifiers, and two others who saw their seasons end prematurely by injury also will be back.

Coach Jeff Moffat will have a solid nucleus to be in the hunt again. Post Falls also will be a challenger.



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