Volleyball regular earns international MVP
Daughter of a five-time Idaho High School Activities Association State Champion head coach, and herself later one of her players at Gooding High, Brittanie Toone grew up quite familiar with the name ‘Shoshone.’
Particularly when she saw it emblazoned on uniforms across the volleyball net, and maybe no more so than during her junior and senior seasons – when the Lady Senators came up short in their hunt to gain skipper Jolene Toone a sixth crown, while their neighbors in adjacent Lincoln County celebrated IHSAA Class 1A titles in both 2004 and ’05.
Life did go on, and Toone departed GHS in Spring 2006 ready for a college-basketball future at Walla Walla (Wash.) Community College – the volleyball head coach there happened to be an unrelated Tim Toon – from ’06-08. One of her classmates there, ironically, was fellow guard Katie Strunk, who’d been part of SHS’ back-to-back State Championships as well as a State Basketball Championship ending the ’04-05 season.
She’d be named Idaho’s Player-of-the-Year that winter, and earned First Team All-State as a senior when the Lady Indians placed third in ’05-06. Toone, meanwhile, would receive two Second Team All-State nods before graduating – owning a 3.88 grade-point average (Strunk’s was 3.94) – and helped Gooding save fifth (winning the consolation side of the bracket) at the Class 3A State Tournament ending the ’05-06 hoops campaign.
A little more than ten years later, ‘Shoshone’ suddenly re-entered Toone’s life.
But not as a potential opponent; Ignacio, Colorado’s Shoshone Thompson would be more a prized pupil of sorts for the math teacher presently posted at Gooding’s 3A-District IV rival Buhl, as her on-court extension at International Sports Specialists, Inc.’s 2016 Down Under Games.
“I first met Shoshone at the airport and she was wearing a boot. I was shocked at first and was thinking the worst, that she wasn’t going to be able to play,” Toone recalled in a detailed e-mail. “After I talked to her about it, the boot was more for precautionary reasons and … she was to wear the boot when she wasn’t playing.”
“I wanted to go because I wanted a new experience,” Thompson said via phone, the morning of her departure from Australia. “I wanted to meet new people and I thought it would be really cool to get to play teams that aren’t from America. See how their skill level is compared to others in America.”
“I was relieved that she was able to play,” said Toone. “At first I was worried about … my only setter because of the foot injury. It ended up working out great and she kept getting better and better every game.”
Playing with teammates hailing from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and even Indiana, but having only two practices in Queensland to acclimate to each other before commencing pool-play, Thompson’s team of eight still ended up placing fifth at the 18th edition of the Games’ volleyball tournament, while Team Australia took the title inside the Tallebudgera Leisure Centre located in the Gold Coast suburb of Palm Beach.
“We had girls from four different states, and we all brought something really good to the table. We all had the same skill level – as soon as we practiced that first day, we clicked,” said Thompson. “Our first game, we lost by one point, but other than that … we talked, communicated so well; we were a really good team.”
Able to bounce back from a 35-34 loss to the ironically-dubbed ‘Bobcats’ – IHS’ real-life mascot – pieced together from Minnesota and both Dakotas beginning the two-day competition, only a 39-35 loss to the continental Gladstone Sharks ending Day 1 action denied Thompson, Toone, et al, a shot at the top prize.
With fellow CHSAA Class 2A member Olivia Himmel (now a sophomore outside hitter at Ault Highland) and graduated Four Corners regional standout middle/OH Krista Grover of 2A Blanding, Utah, San Juan on the roster, the crew went on a 5-0 rampage on Day 2. And after taking revenge against the Cats, 46-30, the Thompson-set side finished 8-2 overall by beating the Hawks (gathered from Maryland, New York, Ohio and Michigan) 47-32.
“The way the tournament worked was that we played two 15-minute halves and switched sides after one half. Running continuous score,” explained Toone. “Shoshone was very knowledgeable of the game and knew how her hitters liked to hit and put them in position to be successful.”
“Our communication … if we made five mistakes and won one point, we would be happy and excited that we got the point,” Thompson said. “Rather than … get down on ourselves.”
And when awards were distributed after all was said and done, there wasn’t a frown to be found; Thompson was announced as the event’s overall Most Valuable Player.
“It was really funny, actually. Because the team playing for first place just won, they named them, and this guy was just talking,” recalled Thompson. “My mom and I … we weren’t listening, just making our own conversation, and my friend turned to me and said, ‘Yeah Shoshone!’ And she was, like, yelling!”
“I was like, ‘What?’ And so I look around, everyone’s looking at me, so I get off the bleachers and go to the front and the guy said that I was MVP! I was so shocked! I had no idea!”
“I was shocked because I had many talented players and they played well together,” said Toone.
“Shoshone played, in my eyes, the hardest position on the court. She led by example and knew where to set the ball and find the opponents’ weaknesses. She was a hustler and improved on the ball if it wasn’t a good pass … had a great serve and during some games served for long amounts of time.”
“When I’m playing I don’t think about trying to be the best or trying to show off, I guess,” Thompson said. “I go out and I play, and I don’t even know that I’m standing out to people.”
Or, in this case, more than 199 others.
“It was out of 200 girls from all of the teams – Australian and U.S.,” said Thompson, accompanied by her mother on the unique adventure to the land of surf, kangaroos, koalas and the notorious Vegemite food spread (Thompson gave her seal of approval to Arnott’s TimTams).
“The really cool part is, the coaches from Down Under or any other teams, they had nothing to do with me getting the award. It was the officials that saw me,” she continued. “And how it worked is, they picked people – like, ranked them first, second, third and on – who should get MVP. The higher they got, the more points they got, so by the time they had finished I had the most points!”
“Some of the officials were surprised that she was only going to be a junior. They thought she had graduated and was maybe heading to play college ball,” Toone said. “It was an honor coaching Shoshone and she was well deserving of the award.”
After helping Ignacio post a 15-9 overall record and gain a 2A-Region G postseason appearance in 2015, Thompson expects her one-off experience to serve her well this fall.
“I’m going to try to bring positive vibes, as much as the girls on my team did here, and try to communicate with everybody as good as I can,” she said. “Even if I don’t know them as well – that’s how it had to work here, because nobody knew anybody! – and be positive on the court at all times.”
“One thing that I think she can take from this trip is to enjoy the game and communication is key to the game,” Toone added. “She is versatile and can play multiple positions, beneficial in any high school program.”
Himmel; THOMPSON; Grover; Kinkaid Padgett (4A Muncie, Ind., Central); Karlie Keller (3A Lovell, Wyo.); Kassidy Christensen (1A Dugway, Utah); Ashley Groll (1A Randolph, Utah, Rich); Ryon Countryman (3A Lander, Wyo., Valley).
“I love doing this to see how all the girls interact and play together. I also enjoy seeing their faces light up when they get to do things they have never done before,” said Toone, who finished her college b-ball days at Montana Tech and graduated there in 2010. “I know for most of the girls this was a great experience for them and they made some life-long friendships.”
“After a 14-hour flight we did a little sightseeing in Brisbane before we headed to practice,” she continued, recalling her team’s initial assembly. “The girls were a little rusty but they bonded right away. Not only did they bond with each other, they met some Australian girls and made some friendships there as well.”
All told, the team crushed its challengers by an impressive 444-299 margin.
“The girls were inseparable and they all got along – you could see that on the court.”