With a program fielding only half a dozen athletes, Salmon River of Riggins might have looked to a casual observer like a long shot to qualify for the Idaho Class 1A Division II state girls’ basketball tournament this season.
But it happens that Emily Diaz, Lotus Harper, Sofie Branstetter, Alethea Chapman, Jordyn Pottenger and Avery Jones form a far tighter-knit and more athletic group of six girls than one can easily find. Five of them were members of the Savages’ state finalist team in 2019, and all six played together for the state runner-up volleyball team in the fall.
“They’re pretty tight, and I think that’s part of their success,” said coach Paula Tucker, who leads the Salmon River volleyball and basketball programs. “There’s no selfishness; they don’t care who scores the ball. They just get it down the court.”
The Savages (16-4), who finished second in the District III tournament, open the double-elimination state tournament at 12:15 p.m. Pacific on Thursday at Nampa High School against Lighthouse Christian (19-3) of Twin Falls. This will be a rematch of sorts, as the Lions are the same school that beat the Savages in the 1A DII volleyball final in November, and also fields most of the same players in basketball as it did in that sport.
“We’re starting out with maybe the best team in the state in Lighthouse Christian,” said Tucker, who stressed the importance of energetic rebounding for her players against the height of their southern rivals. “... If we let them shoot until they make it, they’re going to score every time, so we’ve got to rebound and take care of the ball.”
Salmon River has a 7-3 record against conference foes this season and punched above its size classification to twice defeat 2A rival Orofino. Of the Savages’ four losses, three have come to Long Pin Conference champion Tri-Valley of Cambridge, which stands to be another contender at State, while the fourth was at the hands of 1A-DI threat Prairie of Cottonwood.
Diaz, a senior who put up 25 points in Salmon River’s 49-37 state-qualifying victory Saturday against Nezperce, has been the team’s biggest offensive powerhouse. Point guard Harper also is a major scoring threat for Salmon River, as are Branstetter and Pottenger. Chapman is the team’s defensive specialist, while 5-foot-10 Jones is the Savages’ top rebounder.
“With six of them, it’s been a struggle all season trying to practice against a press or against a zone defense, so I’m pretty proud of them,” said Tucker, who is taking her team to State for the fourth time in five years. “They’re beat-up and tired.”
A victory against Lighthouse Christian would put Salmon River back in action at 5:15 p.m. Pacific on Friday against the Kendrick-Rockland winner, while a loss would mean a 12:15 p.m. Pacific consolation game the same day against the loser of that contest.