Two of the top four Class 1A girls basketball teams in the state will occupy the same court in Ione this Friday with first place in the Big Sky Conference’s East Division on the line. The Condon/Wheeler Knights bring their undefeated power game to town to face the home team Cardinals in a juicy midseason struggle.
Despite the two blemishes on its season record, Ione (9-2, 3-0 BSC) is the top ranked squad by OSSA behind one of the most difficult schedules in the land. The Cardinals boast an RPI higher than any other 1A team, thanks in no small part to a combined opponents’ winning percentage of 63 percent. The Cardinals only losses have come against the third-ranked Class 2A Enterprise — a meaty 12-1 school out of the Blue Mountain Conference — and the 9-1 McKenzie that topped Ione in tournament play in December.
"It’s not too hard to get out there and get ready for this one,” Ione coach Mike Garrett said. “At (Monday’s) practice, you can tell they were excited to play ... If you’re preparing for the best, anything else that anybody throws at you you should be able to handle with a few adjustments.”
The only thing keeping the Knights from the top of the rankings is an opponents’ combined winning percentage of just 47 percent. The conference coaches do see things a little differently, ranking the Knights second with Ione in fourth place.
“(This game) will come down to who can keep their composure the longest,” Humphrey said. “It’s a long-standing rivalry we have with Ione and it can become more of a mental game. I think our depth is the key.”
Bench depth has unlocked plenty of opportunities for the Knights this season. Condon/Wheeler starts three seniors with a backing army of juniors coming off the bench. The varsity squad carries 13 girls, a staggering number for a Class 1A school. Jessica Logan, a 5-foot-10 senior, has been at the center of that group as the leader. Her intensity translates into a blueprint for the rest of the team to follow, Humphrey said.
The Knights don’t have a scheduled game today, meaning the team has a full week of practices to prepare for the Cardinals and a full week to focus on what will likely stand as its greatest test before tournament season. The Knights will try to prepare like they’re heading into any one of the other 21 games on the season schedule to avoid overthinking things.
The Cardinals will counter with a slightly smaller, albeit equally talented roster that includes five seniors. The Cardinals are strong from the outside — where 3-point specialist Stacee Halvorsen roams — as well as under the basket with 5-foot-10 senior JoAnna Patton. The pair, along with Shadow Kendrick, have emerged as the team’s scoring threats while Mary Rietmann supplies the scrappy do-it-all hustle role, coach Garrett said.
Ione has had five different girls lead the team in scoring and will try to battle Condon/Wheeler’s depth with some of its own. Garrett said he just hopes that can help them keep up with the scoring of the Condon/Wheeler Logan sisters, Jessica and sophomore Ellie.
“They are two of the most dynamic players at the girls level of Class 1A basketball,” Garrett said.
The showdown tips off at 6 p.m. on Friday night at Ione.