They've reached the summit and found they liked the view.
So, the reigning State 1A Division 2 boys' basketball tournament champions from Carey High School have challenged themselves to playing a tougher schedule for 2011-12.
Carey opened its 20-game campaign Tuesday at home against 2A Glenns Ferry and will host 1A Division 1 Hagerman Pirates Friday, Dec. 2. The Panthers carried a 17-game winning streak dating back to last season into those games.
The Panthers, winners of 47 of 52 games over two seasons, winners of six league tournament titles in nine years, have a major target on their backs. They want to go to the state tourney for the 16th time in 20 years. Anything else would be somewhere south of acceptable.
"Everybody wants to beat us," said 11th-year coach Dick Simpson (220-45). "You don't win at football as many years as we have, and you don't make it into the basketball championship game two years in a row without being that target."
Simpson added, "Our goal is to make it back to the championship game and see what happens when we get there. We may not be 24-2 again because of our tougher schedule, but we could be a better team with 15 or 16 wins just because of the better competition we'll face."
Having won the school's first-ever state hoops title last March in Nampa, the Panthers led the off-season drive within the Northside Conference of nine 1A schools to loosen up the home-and-home match-up rules and create a better basketball slate for everyone.
Simpson said, "Everybody in our league wanted to have more non-conference games. But the way the league was set up, with nine teams, if you played everybody twice, that would be 16 games—leaving only two non-conference teams you could play home-and-home.
"Rather than having the dominant teams in our conference beat up twice on the weaker teams, we felt having more non-conference match-ups would make for a better league in the long run."
The upshot is Carey kept its home-and-homes with Oakley, Hagerman and 2A Butte County, while adding a game and creating home-and-homes with 2A Glenns Ferry, 2A Valley and Challis. The Northside schedule doesn't start until Jan. 12. Carey plays only one game against traditional rivals like Dietrich and Richfield.
"I know I have Castleford, Dietrich, Lighthouse and Camas at my house this year and we'll go there next year," said Simpson. "We also know we'll have to come everyday and play good ball. We want to hold opponents under 50 points, score over 60 points, win all our home games and at least half of those on the road. If we do all that, we should be all right."
An excellent defensive team last year, holding foes to 39.3 ppg en route to its 47-46 state championship victory over Nezperce, Carey will try to step it up on defense even more.
Simpson said, "We always try to improve on defense. Our philosophy is you have to be willing to help each other. If one player gets beat on defense, all five players get beat. Somebody has to be helping out at all times. We'll play a lot of man-to-man, a little zone, and we'll also try to play some pressure more than in recent years."
Only three days after its state eight-man football championship game loss to Lighthouse Christian Nov. 18 in Pocatello, Carey played in a hoops jamboree at Hagerman Monday, Nov. 21. Carey beat Hagerman by two points and lost to Wood River by three.
"I was quite pleased," said Simpson, whose lineup did not include football players Baley Barg, Jordan Dilworth and Dillon Cenarrusa. "The defense was impressive against Wood River, taking a lot of things away and locking them down."
Even though Carey graduated essential players like top scorer Blair Peck (14.0 ppg, 62 assists, 89 steals), Jacy Baird (6.5 ppg, 101 rebounds) and defensive star Shane Bingham (4.5 ppg, 53 steals), the new Panther edition returns quite a bit including five key seniors.
They are leading rebounder Barg (9.5 ppg, 14.7 ppg at state), point guard Charlie Rivera, Jack Cenarrusa, Chance Chavez (4.4 ppg) and Dillon Cenarrusa (5.5 ppg, 107 boards). Simpson said Chavez, Jack Cenarrusa and Barg will have the green light from the perimeter.
Record-setting quarterback Jordan Dilworth, a junior point guard, is expected to return from his broken collarbone by January. He was last season's top junior varsity scorer (8.6 ppg) and will also have the green light from the circle.
Carey has added 6-3 junior Garrett Lee (4.7 ppg, 121 rebounds), 6-2 junior Patrick Baird (4.3 ppg, top board man with 134) and junior Francisco Gamino (5.7 ppg, 100 rebounds) from coach Danny Simpson's junior varsity. Indeed, the new Carey varsity could "in some respects be stronger than last year with our inside game," coach Dick Simpson said.
"Garrett and Pancho (Gamino) are big bodies—they push hard," said the coach. "We have the potential to play five guards, or we could play three to four big guys to create mismatches. We'll play up-tempo. Even those big kids with their quick first steps can get out on the run."
Also in the mix are second-leading JV scorer Sheldon Hansen (7.2 ppg) and Gunner Thompson (3.6 ppg). Here is the 2011-12 Panther roster:
Head coach, Dick Simpson (11th year, 220-45, .830 winning percentage). Since 1991, covering 21 seasons, Carey is 391-136 for a .742 winning percentage.
Seniors (5): Jack Cenarrusa, Chance Chavez, Dillon Cenarrusa, Baley Barg and Charlie Rivera.
Juniors (7): Garrett Lee, Francisco Gamino, Jordan Dilworth, Patrick Baird, Gunner Thompson, Jayce Koudelka and Sheldon Hansen.
Head coach, Danny Simpson (9th year, 8 appearances in Northside JV title game, 5 first-place finishes, 3 second places).
Sophomores (4): Christian Zarate, Luis Garcia, Tori Alvarez and Bartten Lee.
Freshmen (7): Nate Adamson, Matt Whitworth, Joe Gamino, Corban Johnson, Chris Peck, Alex Durtschi and Jesus Morales.