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Familar foes aplenty at State

Feb. 15—Familiarity is a rare advantage for those competing at end-of-year tournaments. But several area teams in this year's Idaho girls state basketball tournament have a solid scouting report on their opening-round opponents.

Grangeville (2A), Lapwai (1A DI), Prairie (1A DI), Kendrick (1A DII), Deary (1A DII) and Salmon River of Riggins (1A DII) will be competing at State, which begins today at various locations.

The most acquainted first-round adversaries are No. 6 Salmon River and Long Pin Conference foe No. 3 Council.

The Savages and Lumberjacks are longtime rivals, and the opposing coaches have a bond like no other, considering they're mother and son.

Before coming to Council, Paula Tucker led Salmon River to two runner-up finishes at the state tournament in a career that spanned nine years.

Paula's son Levi Tucker took over the program in 2020, and the Savages earned a spot at the Big Dance for the first time in his career with a 52-48 victory over Tri-Valley in an Idaho Class 1A DII second-place game on Friday.

"They never gave up," Levi Tucker said. "We were down by 11 against Tri-Valley, and we took the lead with five seconds left in the third, and they held onto it for the rest of the game."

Council (11-5) and Salmon River (17-6) play at 7 p.m. today at Nampa High School in what will be a "family affair," according to Levi.

The Lumberjacks' coaching staff is comprised of Levi's younger sister and older brother, and Levi's daughter, Audrey, will be on the floor for Salmon River.

"Salmon River and Council have had a rivalry forever, so that always adds fuel to the fire," Levi said. "There will be a lot of family there, for sure. But hopefully, most of them are wearing blue."

Here's a look at the rest of the field for the area:

1A DII most populated; Kendrick might be the favorite

No. 2 Kendrick (20-3) probably has the clearest path to the championship game out of the three area 1A DII teams competing at State.

The Tigers play No. 7 Leadore (17-4) in the first round at 5 p.m. today at Nampa High School, a team they beat 59-35 in last year's consolation game.

Kendrick will play the winner of Salmon River and Council if it gets past the Mustangs.

The Tigers handled the Lumberjacks 59-20 on Dec. 9.

Kendrick punched its ticket to the Big Dance with a 53-45 victory over Deary in an Idaho Class 1A DII championship game on Feb. 7.

The Tigers' favorable seeding is a change of pace from the last couple of years, when they've been placed in the middle of the bracket.

"It's better for sure," Kendrick coach Ron Ireland said. "I like the draw. I'm very confident. But when it comes down to it, you have to beat everyone."

The last time the Tigers received a top-two seed at State was in 2021, and they reached the title game.

2021 was the freshman campaign for Kendrick's seniors, so a state title would be an exclamation point for its six upperclassmen: Harley Heimgartner, Taylor Boyer, Natalie Kimbley, Morgan Silflow, Ruby Stewart and Hailey Taylor.

The Tigers have gone 88-20 over the last four years and competed for hardware in each of the last three seasons at State.

"The last couple of years, we were under the radar," Ireland said. "We made it to Saturday every time, and we haven't been surprised; we kind of saw it coming. ... We've had this team the last few years, and it's a good team to start with, and the girls are relaxed and ready to play."

Kendrick is experienced and has four or five scorers, which is a huge advantage, especially in the 1A DII ranks.

"If someone gets shut down, we're really good about sharing the ball," Ireland said. "We've had some cases where an opponent is thinking about keying in on someone specifically, and we'll have a different girl step up in that moment, and that's been nice to see."

Kendrick's Whitepine League DII rival, No. 4 Deary (14-7), plays No. 5 Mackay (16-6) at noon today in the opening round of State at the same site.

The Mustangs got to the tournament with a 46-21 decision over Nezperce in an Idaho 1A DII second-place game on Friday.

This is Deary's third consecutive trip to the Big Dance, and it reached the third-place game in each of the last two years.

A good season for the Bulldogs

No. 1 Grangeville is on a 12-game win streak and has four players who rank top-10 in scoring in the 2A classification.

"We really have a dynamic team," Grangeville coach Michelle Barger said. "They've been playing together for a long time, and we like to push the ball. We love to play with a high intensity on defense, and we have four really good scorers."

The Bulldogs earned their spot with a 69-42 victory over Kellogg in an Idaho Class 2A district championship game on Feb. 7.

Grangeville (21-2) faces the Wildcats (15-9) again at 2 p.m. today in the opening round of the tournament at Kuna High School.

"I just think it's clicking," Barger explained. "We lost some girls that didn't come out this year, and they would've played for us, but they decided to go a different route. ... Our other role players stepped up and have been playing great, and the dynamics of the team are great. ... They don't care who scores; they make the extra pass and it's pretty cool to watch."

Junior Madalyn Green (18.2 points per game), sophomore Caryss Barger (14.7), sophomore Addisyn Vanderwall (12.8) and senior Mattie Thacker (11) are the four prolific Bulldog scorers.

The quad is deadly because "all of them can shoot," according to Barger, labeling Thacker's jump shot from the middle of the key her "bread and butter."

The mainstays return to the tournament

Prairie and Lapwai have been mainstays at the Idaho Class 1A Division I state tournament, and despite both teams having slow starts, they have returned to the Big Dance.

No. 3 Lapwai (18-5) faces No. 6 Valley of Hazelton, Idaho (15-9) at 7 p.m. today in the opening round at Columbia High School.

The Wildcats earned their spot with a 39-27 win over Prairie in a 1A DI championship game on Feb. 8.

The Wildcats faced the 2A's most recent state champions, Melba and Cole Valley Christian, to start the season and finished 1-1, notching a 76-50 decision over the Mustangs on Nov. 11.

Lapwai got hit with the injury bug at the Avista Holiday Tournament at the P1FCU Activity Center in Lewiston and finished 1-2.

The Wildcats then lost two marquee games to Kendrick (49-40, Jan. 4) and Prairie (Jan. 18) 18 days into the new year.

After falling to Prairie, Lapwai won eight consecutive games and redeemed both of its losses to the Tigers and Pirates in the process.

No. 5 Prairie (17-7) opens against No. 4 Murtaugh (18-4) at noon today at the same site.

The Pirates were 6-6 heading into Christmas break.

This forced Prairie to return to the basics as well as make some personnel changes, and it finished 11-1 in its last 12 games.

"I think the kids grew a lot and bought into the program," Prairie coach Lori Mader said. "It was mentally what they needed to do, and they took on their roles and propelled well."

The Pirates punched their ticket with a 49-46 win over Kamiah in a 1A DI second-place game on Saturday.

A key positional change for Prairie was moving sophomore Sage Elven to the inside.

Since the move, Elven has racked up numerous double-double performances.

"It forced people to focus on us in the paint," Mader said. "We also have Kylie Schumacher, who is a big body on the other block rebounding, and when you got two extremely athletic bigs like Kylie and Sage, that's hard to stop."

Pixley may be contacted at tpixley@lmtribune.com, (208) 848-2268 or on Twitter @TreebTalks.