Upon being named the new head girls basketball coach at Eagle High in 2013, Cody Pickett had all of his players anonymously write down on a piece of paper what place they thought the team would finish that season.
He didn’t like their answers.
“Some girls put 6, 7 and a lot said 3 and 4, but there were only one or two first place answers,” Pickett said. “I wanted all the answers to read first place.
“Every team’s goal should be to be state champions.”
Four year later, Pickett has every member of his team convinced they should be No. 1 by season’s end. This season, the Mustangs are 12-1 and are the No. 1 ranked team in the state at the 5A level.
“We are all just basketball players,” senior guard Cassidy Tiegs said. “We all play club ball so we know the game well. We know when to take our shots and know when to look for other people.
“We’re all confident too. All confident players in our owns shots and each other’s shots. We all have confidence in ourselves and each other. And everyone on this team is really unselfish too. There is no ‘I’m not getting enough shots,’ or anything like that. We only care about winning.”
Eagle’s ascension to the top of the 5A ranks has been a rapid one.
Following an eight-win season in Pickett’s first year, the Mustangs have won 39 games over the past two season and placed at state in each of those years. They won the consolation championship in 2015 and placed fourth at state a season ago.
But as good as those last two seasons have been for Eagle, it wants more. It wants to be No. 1, like Pickett wanted to see on those sheets of paper.
If the first 13 games of the season are any indication, this could in fact be the Mustangs’ year to do it. Through those first 13 games, they averaging 64.5 points per game, the best in the 5A Southern Idaho Conference. They have an average margin of victory of 29.9 points, also the best in the 5A SIC. Even more impressive, they’re doing all of this with their starters seeing limited time.
According to Pickett, his starters are averaging only 20 minutes per game. This is due to the team’s depth. Eagle brought back four starters and nine returners from last season’s 21-win team. Leading that group are senior returners, forward Abby Mangum and Tiegs.
The pair are the only seniors on the team, but have been with Pickett from the very beginning, starting all four years.
Mangum, who earned All-5A SIC honors last season, is back with the team after missing the first seven games of the season due to tearing her ACL in her right knee in the state semifinals against Mountain View High School last season. In the last six games, she has come off the bench, but according to Pickett, is expected to be reinserted in the starting lineup soon.
Tiegs, who earned both 5A All-SIC and All-State honors last season, crossed the 1,000 point barrier earlier this season.
Joining the duo in the starting lineup are fellow returners, junior forward Janie King and post Katelyn Murray, with sophomore guard Meghan Boyd rounding out the starting five.
Both King and Murray have little sisters on the team in freshman Betsey King and sophomore Dana Murray that both see significant playing time off the bench.
“It’s really cool having a sister dynamic on this team,” Janie King said. “We know where they are all the time and it’s fun getting play with them.
“We also feel like we have this unique bond on the court that allows us to play better together to help this team out.”
Also coming off the bench this season are junior forward McKenna Emerson, who has started in Mangum’s place, junior guard Annika Peery and sophomore guard Jaimee McKinnie to complete the team’s second unit.
“It’s really nice knowing that if you’re tired or need a sub, you have someone coming in that’s going to do just as well,” Mangum said. “We never really have a down moment because every player contributes.”
The only hiccup on the season so far for Eagle is a 51-50 loss to the defending 5A state girls champion, Mountain View, on Dec. 13. The Mustangs have had their fair share of troubles with the Mavericks over the years. They were beaten three times by the Mavericks last season, the last of which came in the state semifinals, and haven’t recorded a win against them since Feb. 4, 2012.
“They’ve had our number for a while now,” Pickett said. “But they are the team to beat and the defending state champions for a reason.
“They are at the top of our list of teams to beat and hopefully we can get over that hump this season.”
If Eagle were to run the table and win it all this season, it would mark the first time ever the program has won the state championship. It would be quite a noteworthy feat considering the program only had one trophy in the case when Pickett arrived, and that came nearly 20 years ago.
Pickett said he no longer has his players write down how they think they’ll do. He ended the tradition because now every player that comes through the program knows what the expectation and goal is from day one.
“This is the start of something great, no doubt about it,” Katelyn Murray said. “We’ve finally gotten to the top and that’s the expectation from now on, anything less just won’t cut it.”