I-70 Conference: Whatís happened and what to expect
Letís be honest: as a whole, the I-70 Conference is a basketball conference.
Top to bottom, the schools in the I-70 know how to fill the hole, and when any two of these teams meet up, you should be ready for a good game that can finish in any number of ways.
Letís take a look at who have separated themselves among the conference and who might be expected to take home the championship. Remember: for most teams, conference play will start in January.
Much like they were in the I-70 Conference Tournament, the Saint Paul Lutheran High School Saints (6-1/0-0) look like the team to beat in the boys side. For them to lose a game this year, it is going to take an extremely bad night for the Saints, paired with an A-grade performance by the opposition.
The Saintsí state championship window is very much alive and well ó led by seniors Elijah Muehler, Micah Lemmons, and Dobrivoj Andrejic ó but they arenít the only team to watch.
Crest Ridge High School has played to an 8-2 (0-0) record to this point, and play very similar to SPLHS despite lacking some of the size and experience. The two teams are arguably the best shooting squads in the conference and can score from outside in a bevy of ways.
Concordia High School (5-4/0-0) should be very much in the mix for a conference championship, as well. Senior Matt Gatewood is one of the conferenceís most polarizing players, and he is provided ample support from multiple sources ó some old (seniors Tad Deatherage and Cameron Kelly) and some new (sophomore Troy Brandt, junior Peyton Moore).
Donít count them out yet, but Wellington-Napoleon High School is having the down-year that they havenít had for a long time. Sitting at just 3-4 (0-0) after losing some talent off of last yearís team, this might be who the Tigers are now. But there is a good chance that head coach Todd Shannon and his squad get it figured out and finish in the top four or better in the conference.
Realistically speaking, the conference title should be taken home to SPLHS by head coach Monte Pitsch and his squad. SPLHS hasnít played perfectly this season, and they are more mortal when they arenít connecting from outside at their normal rate, but the Saints are hands-down the most complete team in the conference and should be expected to finish the conference sweep (regular-season and tournament championships).
On the girls side of the I-70 Conference, there are four teams who appear to be able to take the regular season title, but that road should start with Santa Fe High School.
A perennial contender, the Lady Chiefs lost a bunch of scoring from last year but have hardly missed a beat. They have played to a 6-3 (1-0) record, and while other teams have had better winning percentages, the squad ó led by junior Carrigan Smith, senior Josey Burton, and freshman Bella Limback ó have the makeup to compete every time they hit the floor.
They have had talent at Lone Jack High School, but the Lady Mules finally have the record to back it up. Sitting at 6-1 (0-0), the Mules have been great this year behind junior Becca Roth and senior Rylee Wiseman (the team's only senior).
While the conference can still be won by anybody, and there could be a dark-horse candidate waiting to get into the mix, the Saint Paul Lutheran High School Saints (5-2/0-0) and Wellington-Napoleon High School Tigers (7-1/0-0) are where Iím putting my guess.
Both teams are stacked with talent, although it is the Saints who trot out more experience (six seniors). Seniors Jada Strickland, Karson Troth, Chloe Fuhrman, and Lynda Bennett have all been dynamic for the Saints and will make the road the championship difficult to get through.
The Tigers have a few exciting pieces, including the Shannon sisters (freshmen Bree and Ayden Shannon) and senior Carleigh Jenkins, but in my opinion, it is the Saints who field the team with the best combination of talent, depth and experience, and thus are my prediction to take home the regular-season award. They caught fire in the second half of the 2017-2018 season, and through the first half of 2018-2019, havenít been put out yet.