After nearly an entire year of waiting, game week is finally here. The high school basketball season tips off this week, ushering in a time where four champions begin the road to attempted repeats. And with the new reclassification, those roads got a lot bumpier.
Gillette comes off its 17th state championship in program history and third in the most recent four seasons. Douglas completed perfection in Class 3A, Sundance pulled off the dramatic upset over Wyoming Indian to hold gold and Snake River made its Cinderella run from fourth seed to state champion. All face obstacles that make repeating those feats unlikely.
All of the new variables, players, teams, quadrants and tournaments make predicting outcomes impossible at this point in the season. But there are certain teams and individuals, even story lines that stand out before the first games are played. Each classification has them, explaining more in-depth the struggles each returning champion will have while attempting to repeat.
Defending champion Gillette does have some considerable talent returning. Rylee Hladky and Jesilyn Robertson are among the key contributors who will once again be on the hardwood for the purple and gold. Just across town may be their stiffest competition. Thunder Basin returns Madison Miller, Jersie Taylor, Meadow Kuntz and adds Sundance transfer Rigan McInerney for one of the classification’s strongest lineups.
Cheyenne East, with new head coach Eric Westling, could challenge that order. Senior Kalee McEwan returns to the post for the Thunderbirds while distributor Abby Erickson facilities the offense. Plus, the T-Birds add Rock Springs transfer Ky Buell, who averaged a state-best 21.0 points per game as a sophomore for the Tigers last season.
Both Kelly Walsh and Natrona County will look different in 2018-19. The Trojans return Danilynn Schell, Corin Carruth, Hadley Lloyd and will likely start Kylie Spangler at point guard, while experience from the bench is thin to start the year. The Fillies, under new-slash-old head coach Brian Costello, will have to rely upon the experience of junior Kate Robertson, who is the team’s top returner. Expect senior Morgan Schwindt and junior Kylie Hilerbrand to see big minutes early.
Then there’s the addition of Star Valley and Cody, which could dramatically alter the West Conference. With the athleticism of Olivia Muir, Otessa Olsen and Abby Coles, the Braves should be in the running for a tournament berth. Then there’s Cody, which adds Encampment transfer and University of Wyoming signee Paige Powell. She’ll be supported by an athletic group that includes Bailey Stafford, Tess Blough and Torrie Schutzman.
Having graduated just one senior from last year’s undefeated championship team, Douglas appears in good shape for the 2018-19 season. But Lyman, the top contender on the West side of the state, makes the Bearcats far from the overwhelming favorite. A loss in the regional championship robbed 3A fans of a possible championship game between the two most-hyped teams. This year could actually see that happen.
University of Wyoming signee McKinley Bradshaw (23.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.7 steals, 1.4 blocks per game) and McKailey Bradshaw (13.1 points, 44 percent field goals) led the Eagles to an undefeated volleyball season and carry that momentum into this basketball season. Meanwhile, sophomore Allyson Fertig (14.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.0 blocks), senior Haedyn Rhoades (9.6 points, 4.4 assists, 2.7 steals) and sophomore Joslin Igo (11.1 points, 4.1 assists) all return for Douglas.
There are teams outside of those two, however. Powell’s Rachel Bonander (13.5 points, 10.0 rebounds) returns for her senior season and Buffalo returns both senior Eli Olsen (8.1 points, 6.1 rebounds) and junior Kaydin Davis (12.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 3.3 steals) from last year’s runner-up campaign. The Bison also add junior Jordyn McNamee, last year's 1A leading-scorer at Hulett, who averaged 22.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.7 steals last year for the Red Devils.
This classification is open for the taking and there is no clear favorite.
Senior Kammie Ragsdale (18.2 points, 2.2 assists, 3.2 steals) returns to lead Pine Bluffs, one of the championship contenders. Wyoming Indian is consistently a tournament team and returns Alexandria Trosper (13.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.0 steals) this season. And Rocky Mountain made the quarterfinals last year after holding teams to a 2A-low 33.6 points per game and returns senior Teagan Townsend.
Greybull has a talented team, highlighted by senior Kendall Wright (12.3 points, 1.9 assists, 3.0 steals) and junior Payten Sorensen (5.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.9 steals). Big Horn also remains a possible contender with the return of senior Alisyn Hutton (8.2 points) and junior Britny Hutton.
Juniors Savannah Arneach (8.2 points, 3.4 steals) and Josie Oldman (6.5 rebounds) return to make Wind River a team to watch as well.
Snake River graduated the majority of its offensive output and the classification’s most sought-after player transferred into Class 4A. That evens the playing field for this season, which could see some wild finishes.
Despite the loss of Paige Powell, Encampment could still find itself in the championship picture. The Tigers return senior Noelle Peterson (18.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, 43 field goal percentage), who was second in the classification in scoring last season. Playing in an extremely competitive quadrant won’t help, however.
Maizee Thoren (13.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.3 steals) returns for Farson, making the Pronghorns a tough out. Cokeville sophomore Whitney Murdock saw just three games last year but averaged 10.7 points in that stretch. She returns alongside junior Kamille Nate (9.9 points, 4.8 rebounds) to make the Panthers one of the teams to beat in 1A.
This year might see Hulett make progress as junior Katrina Bauman, who averaged 11.2 rebounds, and senior Emma Jay (6.6 points, 7.2 rebounds).
But there’s a lot of time between now and the big tournaments, so it’s anyone’s game.