Kuna is one of the most well known wrestling programs in the state.

But the moniker had lost some of that luster in recent memory.

The Kavemen hadn’t placed any higher than third at districts and ninth at state over the last two seasons. But they had a return to form and reminded everyone what their name can stand for this year.

Kuna went 13-3 overall in duals, 7-1 in 5A Southern Idaho Conference duals, won the first 5A District III Championship in school history and placed third at state.

For these achievements, the Kuna wrestling team is the 2017-18 Idaho Press-Tribune’s Sports Stars Boys Winter Team of the Year.

“This season was one of the top highlights of my coaching career so far,” Kuna wrestling coach Pat Owens said. “I mean we didn’t win state, but this team in general, was amazing. Their energy was contagious, they were a lot of fun to coach and were some of the hardest workers I’ve ever had. So for all of that to come together like that, was nothing short of a memorable season.”

The turnaround season started oddly enough with a pretty forgettable showing at last year’s state tournament. The Kavemen, who won a pair of state titles (2012, 2014) and finished runner-up the other three times during an impressive stretch from 2011-2015, found themselves in a unfamiliar spot by the end of state — 13th.

But despite the fact that Kuna only had three state placers with most of its wrestlers going two and out, optimism remained high for next season.

“A lot of us sat there not with our heads down, but held high because most of us were pretty young and inexperienced and we had made it that far,” junior Logan Law said. “We were only going to get better with more experience and another good group of young guys coming in. We knew we would have a chance to do something next year if all us just continued to put in the work.”

That’s exactly what happened and Kuna trusted the process.

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The Kavemen, a team primarily made up of underclassmen with nine of the 15 weight classes occupied by either freshmen or sophomores, went from underdog to favorite in a hurry.

Kuna avenged its lone league dual loss of the season by dethroning the two-time defending 5A District III and state champion Columbia at this year’s 5A District III Championships. The Kavemen had 18 wrestlers place to beat the Wildcats by 17.5 points with 359 for the first 5A District III title in school history. It was also the first district title for the program in four years.

“That was huge for us,” freshman Preston Owens said. “We obviously knew how good they were, but we also knew we could be even better. But I think we still were all in shock that we were able to beat them.”

Kuna once again got the better of its rival and 18 other teams the following week at 5A State Wrestling Championships in Pocatello. The Kavemen had eight state placers and three of them wrestled for state titles in freshmen Preston Owens (120) and Michael Mitchell (106), along with junior Cedar Miller (170). While Owens and Miller dropped close decisions, Mitchell made sure Kuna’s streak of individual state champions continued with a second-round pin over Borah’s Thomas Miracle.

Mitchell’s championship and other placings by Kreede Peterson (third), Tucker Heindel (third) Toby Keller (fourth), Law (fifth) and Malakai Moyer (fifth) proved pivotal with the Kavemen just holding off the Wildcats for third place by two points with 160.5.

“That was incredible,” Law said. “Going into state we didn’t want people to think we were a fluke. We wanted them to know that Kuna wrestling was back and we weren’t going away. And that’s exactly what we did.”

The Kavemen look like they are not going anywhere anytime soon with six state placers and another talented freshmen class set to come in next year.

So get used to the Kuna name.

“Winning the state title next year is on our radar for sure,” Pat Owens said. “The kids are already committed to that goal.”

Brandon Walton covers Ada County and College of Idaho sports for the Idaho Press.

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