Not even an optimistic Ryan Lundgren could have imagined it happening this fast.
Lundgren took over a Vallivue boys basketball team that had won just 10 combined games in the three previous seasons, yet led them to an 11-13 record in his first year as head coach during the 2015-16 season.
His second year? The Falcons finished 20-12 and were the state runner ups after a storybook run in the district and state tournaments three months ago saw them come up just short in overtime of the state title game.
For orchestrating the remarkable turnaround at Vallivue and leading the Falcons to their first state tournament appearance since 2010, Lundgren is the easy choice as the Idaho Press-Tribune’s Sports Stars Boys Coach of the Year for 2016-17.
The story of Vallivue’s improbable run to the 4A state title game starts two years ago when Lundgren, a former director of basketball operations at Boise State, took his first head coaching position at a school that barely averaged three wins the three previous seasons.
“The biggest thing we had to change was the culture,” Lundgren said. “They had a losing culture as far as kids not wanting to come out for basketball and the ones that were coming out weren’t working hard and had bad attitudes and body language.
“I just really tried to get everybody excited at the school and get as many kids out to games as possible because the student attendance was way down. I wanted to get people excited to be a Vallivue Falcon.”
Lundgren led the Falcons to 11 wins in his debut season – more than the program had won in the three previous seasons combined.
“He’s very prepared when it comes to game planning and watching film,” outgoing senior Jordan Moran said. “He was just very prepared and also a great leader.”
Several things aligned for Lundgren and the Falcons in year No. 2 including a strong senior class, the drop to the 4A classification and the arrival of transfer Nick Fitts, who led Vallivue in scoring last season.
Vallivue beat 5A foes Centennial and Borah during the preseason and also went 2-2 at a prestigious tournament in Santa Barbara, California.
The turning point came during the District III tournament when starters Landon Cain and Tyas Kitchen were ejected for leaving the bench during a scrum with Bishop Kelly. As a result, both were suspended for an elimination game the next night.
“We used it to motivate us,” Lundgren said.
Lundgren navigated the Falcons to a win against Emmett with just seven players, and then to a win over Skyview the following night to secure the school’s first state tournament trip in seven years.
But Vallivue didn’t stop there, beating Burley and Idaho Falls to reach the school’s first state title game since 2008. There they forced overtime with a last-second shot from Moran, but eventually fell to defending state champ Preston in front of a packed house at the Idaho Center.
“It was a special year,” Lundgren said. “I was blessed with great kids, and seven irreplaceable seniors. We accomplished so much together and took the program so far. We feel like we are champions.”
And he played a big part.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do it without him,” Kitchen said. “I wouldn’t want to play for anybody else.”