Wood River High School star senior volleyball and basketball players Emily Vandenberg and Johnny Radford have signed letters of intent to play collegiately at the College of Idaho in Caldwell. They are Coyote scholarship players.

     Vandenberg, 17, daughter of Raul and Kristy Vandenberg, will play for eight-time Cascade Collegiate Conference Coach of the Year Liz Mendiola, the Jerome native who has a 440-170 record since taking over the top Coyotes job in 2001. Her team during her 19th season in 2019 ended up 17-11 (12-8 CCC).

     Leading Wood River to its first state volleyball tournament berth in seven seasons this fall, Vandenberg piled up dominant statistics: 385 kills and a .270 hitting percentage, 29 blocks, 224 digs, 29 serving aces and 88% serving efficiency.

     Vandenberg, who has also competed for Wood River in track and field since the seventh grade as a sprinter and jumper, has been able to maintain a 4.0 grade point average during her sports seasons with a pretty tough schedule. She will explore exercise science as a major.

     She said, “I’ll never forget this season. I’m so happy that my senior season was the best one. This was a special group. We’ve been together for years and we’re all friends on and off the court. It was bittersweet to see it come to an end. I’m most proud of reaching our goal and making it to state for the first time in seven years.”

     Radford, 17, son of John and Sue Radford, has signed to play for Coyotes men’s basketball coach Colby Blaine. Blaine is a 2005 Boise High graduate and 2009 University of Montana Western bachelor’s grad in his second year as head coach after a 31-6 mark in 2018-19.

     College of Idaho men, now 6-2, were ranked No. 3 in the NAIA Division 2 pre-season poll, the school’s highest pre-season ranking in 20 years. The Coyotes fell 76-56 to Lewis-Clark State (8-0) in Saturday’s Domino’s Classic title contest.

     Radford hopes to major in history at college. He has been coached in his two Wolverine varsity seasons by his father John, who is entering his eighth season as Wood River boys’ basketball head coach.

     Last winter, Johnny scored 411 points for a 17.9 ppg average. Over two seasons, he has 796 points in 47 games (16.9 ppg). Radford has a chance as a senior to advance higher in the Wood River all-time ranks.

     The young man, a state qualifier for Wood River in golf as a Hailey underclassman, played AAU basketball this past spring for the first time. Johnny also grew up with the example of older sister Blair Radford, third-leading girls’ hoops scorer in Hailey annals with 836 points in 76 games.

     Johnny said, “Having a sister and family that played college basketball made it easy for me to be motivated to want to be better than all of them—honestly, from the driveway one-on-ones where we had to be separated all the time, to the lonely gym time where it was just us shooting. It was awesome watching Blair go to play college ball and I’m happy to follow in her footsteps.”

     See the Dec. 4 Local Life edition for more photos from the signing. Vandenberg and Radford answered a few questions after the ceremony:


Making progress in their sports

     Emily: I developed my game playing club ball each year with Wood River Volleyball Club, playing school ball, and all of the off-season work in between. Even when I was in 4th and 5th grades I went to camps over the summer. I love the game. Any time I get the opportunity I’ll always go play.

     The people who have inspired me and have helped me along are my mom and my coach Kristyn (Rutland). My mom has made such a big impact on me. She has coached me ever since I was young, and was my first coach. She was my first coach. I’ve learned to love the sport through her. Kristyn is someone I really looked up to, her love of the game, all her knowledge and positivity.

    Johnny: Growing up I was always in the gym with my dad. He coached basketball here in the early- to mid- 2000s so I was always in the gym and I really never wanted to leave. My dad was always being there no matter whether it was 3rd grade or now. He has made me the person and player I am today.

     I really started getting serious and competing with it around 4th grade when we played around the Twin area against a lot of the smaller schools like Gooding, Valley and Wendell. Coach Jeff Petersen is one of the people who have been there in the Select basketball program from a young age. I enjoyed him being there on the sidelines over the last two years as high school assistant coach.


Why College of Idaho?

     Emily: After meeting the coach, Liz Mendiola, I knew she was someone I wanted to play for. She runs her program with so much integrity. She’s so positive and expects a lot out of her players. I love the environment there and I felt a good connection with the team. C of I has a great reputation. I can’t wait to be a Yote.

     Johnny: College of Southern Idaho assistant coach Shelby Lindley was my AAU coach this summer. We really connected. He pushed me and made me a better person and player—so it became an easy decision as a player and student. Thanks to that I’m playing at a higher level than I ever thought.

     The culture at C of I is off the charts. The school and teams are all connected and supportive of each other. It’s an amazing atmosphere.


Off-season training

     Vandenberg plans to compete from December through May in the RISE Volleyball Academy program based in Meridian. Her parents plan to share driving responsibilities for the twice-weekly evening practices.

    Emily: I have always played with Wood River Volleyball Club in the off-seasons, so playing with RISE will be something new. I’m looking forward to the new challenge. All of the coaches are super positive and put competitive teams together. I’m excited to see what’s to come.


How they relax

     Emily: Spending time with my friends, listening to music, etc. I’m a big Lakers fan and I watch a lot of college volleyball.

     Johnny: Go to the gym, get a speaker and just shoot while listening to music. Being out there on the court has always relaxed me. I also like to watch and play volleyball—played a lot of sand volleyball last summer.


Advice to younger kids

     Emily: Never stop working hard, always keep playing, and have fun. Every opportunity you have to play go and play. Volleyball is such a great sport. Always be a positive teammate and don’t take it for granted. It’s a special game. 

     Johnny: Understand that you are from the Wood River Valley, and there are not a lot of coaches looking here for athletes. So everything you do is really under the radar. I’ve always been told that other people are doing the same thing you are. If you want to go the distance, you’ve got to be committed in all the things you do if you want to go places.

Email the writer: sports@mtexpress.com

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