Award-winning columnist Richard Larsen of Pocatello is president of the brokerage firm Larsen Financial. He graduated from Idaho State University with degrees in history and political science.
The Snake River High School girls basketball team made history last week. Not only did they play in their first state championship game, but they won it, bringing home the first, hopefully of many, girls basketball championship trophies. The Panthers have played for third a few times, but had never gotten over the semi-final hump, until this year.
This was a season of many highs for the team, as they completed a 23-2 record, with their only two losses coming at the hands of nonconference foe Soda Springs, a disappointing 36-33 loss at home, and to Marsh Valley in January by a 41-35 score. They had to feel as though the season would be a special one as early in the season as they won five games in seven days, including wins over Shelley and Blackfoot.
Rich Dunn, the Panther’s head coach hails from across the “creek” in Blackfoot, where he played baseball and football, but no basketball. He married Kambrel Daw, from Snake River, which fostered the crossriver rivalry domestically, until Rich “went over to the dark side,” as he jokes about the transition from being a Bronco to a Panther.
He maintains that it’s still a mystery to him how he became the head girls basketball coach without that experience as a player. But he’s surrounded himself with excellent assistants, Mike Kirkham (who, according to Rich, has probably forgotten more about basketball than he’ll ever know) and Kristen Adams who know the mechanics of the game much better than he does. Coach Dunn thinks sometimes they might be a little too close “to the forest to see the trees,” because sometimes the solution the team needs is more simple, something that he feels he’s an expert at.
Coach Dunn has been an assistant football coach at Snake River, where winning state championships has become a tradition. But even though he’s coached for 16 years overall, this was only his sixth season coaching the girls basketball team, and only his second season as head coach. Dunn says this team is a “hodge-podge” group that is very much like a family. There are times when they’re ready to “kill each other,” or an opponent, if they treat your other family members wrong. He says they have good talent, but it was the emotional connection and group dynamic that made them grow and succeed as a team.
Further describing the team, the coach proudly identifies them as a “selfless group that doesn’t care who gets the credit or who takes the last shot.” He said he was amazed everyday how they would grow and improve because of that selflessness and how each player elevated their performance because of who was playing next to them. He said they saw “the potential of greatness in each other, and brought it out in one another.”
One aspect of their common bond, according to the Rich, is that the girls would “get sick of hearing the coach, and they realized the best way to silence me was to play hard and smart. That would quiet me right down.”
The team’s parents are incredibly supportive and proactive. Coach Dunn says that for their road games, parents would “pack away enough to stay for a month; clothes and food. We traveled well,” he said.
The coach expressed immense appreciation for the booster club and supporters. He said they’re “boosters for life,” and are there every week not necessarily because they have a child playing on the team, but because they love Snake River, and “demand and expect excellence.”
Only time will tell for sure, but there are many of us hoping this is the start of a new Snake River High School tradition of excellence. Congratulations girls! You’ve done your school, your community, and yourselves proud!