Players to Watch:
Taylor Smith, Century
Elle Hokanson, Pocatello
Emma Kunz, Preston
Written by: Keller Sherman
Since the South East Idaho Conference broke away from the District 4 Great Basin Conference prior to the 2020-21 season, two different champions have been crowned in the three-team league. Century took home the league title in 2020-21 and made a run to the state championship game where they dropped a heartbreaker to Blackfoot. Last year, it was the Preston Indians emerging from District 5 and they went on to finish in 4th place at state losing to the Broncos as well in the 3rd place game. Can Pocatello become the third different league champion in three seasons? The Thunder lost all four meetings with Preston last season by 12 points or more signifying the gap that still needs to be closed between them and the Indians.
Five key players return for Pocatello as they seek their first trip to the state tournament since a 3rd place finish in 2014. Junior forwards Elle Hokanson and Miah Lusk as well as guard Taylor Bunderson all return. 3rd year head coach Sunny Evans believes that the underclassmen on her roster will shine as sophomores Kennasyn Garza and Taylee Rodgers who play center and guard, respectively, will also be important to the team’s success this season. In addition, Liv Marshall and Abby Lusk are incoming players that will be expected to come in and make an immediate impact.
These seven players will have big shoes to fill for the Thunder as guard Hallie Pearson and forward Alexia Tinno will be absent from this year’s team. Evans talks about why these players will be missed as she describes Pearson as a player that “did a little of everything for us and had exceptional leadership skills” and Tinno as “a great rebounder that was critical to our team chemistry.”
On offense, Evans believes in the ability of her players to play well without much structure, but is willing to implement it where necessary as the team focuses on a traditional motion offense. Shooting, spreading the floor, and getting open jump shots to go will be key for Pocatello to improve on offense. Evans believes the Thunder defense will be able to adjust the style they play based on the opponent which in turn will put pressure on the ball holder and opposing offenses as a whole. They will look to improve in rebounding and physicality. If Pocatello can execute and have the strong chemistry that Evans believes is there, the Thunder should be able to get over the hump and end a nine-year state tournament drought.
With the departure of five seniors highlighted by second team all-state honoree Hailey Meek as well as a new head coach in Kamille Kunz, can Preston defend its conference title? Senior shooting guard Emma Kunz, the only returning player with varsity experience, will have to put the team on her back as the team deals with season ending ACL injuries to several key players. These include Reese Swainston, the team’s main defender, as well as sophomores Addie Rowney and Hayven Holyoak. How the team handles these absences will go a long way in determining Preston’s success this season.
Expect the Indians to have a fast paced offense. Brytlee Harris and Chloe Kunz are expected to lead at the top in addition to Taya Tews, a player that Kunz believes can score at will from anywhere. Those three will be expected to aid Emma Kunz on the offense. On defense, Brytlee Harris and Chloe Kunz will be relied upon to put pressure while Liz Harris will be a crucial defender underneath. Preston spent much of their summer prepping some of their younger players to play at the varsity level on the heels of the news of the season ending injuries to a handful of the team’s key players. Staying positive through the adversity the program has faced will dictate whether Preston is able to defend its conference title.
If Century reassumes possession of the conference crown this season, it’s likely because of star player Taylor Smith and the team surrounding her. Smith committed to play college basketball at Division I Weber State during National Signing Day last week. Pocatello head coach Sunny Evans praises Taylor as a high-level talent that can take over a game offensively. The Diamondbacks enter the season hungry to bounce back from a disappointing 2-20 campaign last season.With possibly the best player in the league on the roster, can Century send her off as well as the other seniors on a high note?
All three teams in the South East Idaho Conference seem to be heading in different directions. Preston will have to fill in a lot of holes left behind by a large departed senior class that is also dealing with a coaching change while the two Gate City schools will look to capitalize on what could be a down year for the Indians. Pocatello and Preston will look to find ways to slow down Taylor Smith as she hopes to carry the Diamondbacks to a conference title and state tournament berth in her senior season.