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IEL preview: Boys basketball

Two straight state titles for IEL?

 The Post Falls Trojans were a break or two away from playing for the 5A state championship last year.

 So disappointed were the Trojans – who had upset eventual state champ Lewiston in the Region I title game at Lewiston the week before – they couldn’t muster up much effort in the third-place game. They went home without a trophy.

 “We’ve got some unfinished business,” Post Falls coach Mike McLean said. “We won regionals on the home floor of the eventual state champ. We can learn a lot from Lewiston and what they did to win state.”

 The Trojans (18-7 overall, 6-4 Inland Empire League) return four starters. They are seniors Shawn Reid, a 6-foot-4 guard who has signed with Montana State; 6-1 guard Malcolm Colbert and 6-4 post Jeremy Cragin; and 5-11 sophomore point guard Marcus Colbert. Reid was chosen the league’s most valuable player.

 Post Falls essentially returns five starters. Conner Hill, a 6-1 junior guard who was the first substitute off the bench, started seven times last year.

 The Trojans’ bench will consist of six players who McLean says will see playing time.

 “I plan on playing all 11. We want to use our depth to wear teams down,” McLean said.

 The Trojans are long, physical and fast. They will push the ball as often as possible.

 While the league coaches see the Trojans as the favorite, Coeur d’Alene expects to challenge for the conference title.

 Coeur d’Alene (9-14, 4-6), which played in the state final two years ago, returns essentially its roster and picked up a key transfer. The Vikings didn’t have a senior last year.

 The returning starters are seniors Devon Austin (6-0 guard), Connor White (6-0 g) and Connor Williams (6-5 wing/forward) and sophomores Chad Chalich (6-1 w/f) and Deon Watson (6-4 w/f).

 Junior Jake Matheson (6-1 w), a transfer from Chicago, and returning lettermen Curtis Reno (6-3 w) and Kody Stevens (6-5 p), both seniors, and junior Andrew Baracco (6-0 g) are part of a deep bench.

 “If I can get them to play defense, we’re going to be pretty good,” CdA coach Kent Leiss said. “Overall, we’re a year older and more athletic.”

 Lake City (16-6, 8-2) tied Lewiston for the league title last season, but the Timberwolves faded in the postseason.

 The Timberwolves return one starter in senior Wes Beusan (6-4 p). Junior Mark Smyly (6-3 g) saw starter-like minutes off the bench a year ago. Junior Chris Wheelock (5-9 point guard) has solidified a starting job. Others battling for starting spots are juniors Clint Hartz (6-4 p) and Brady Smith (6-3 p) and seniors T.J. Philp (6-0 g) and J.J. Stoddard (6-1 g).

 With a thin bench, the key for LC will be defense.

 “I think we’re going to be a good defensive team and we’ll even get better as the season goes on,” LC coach Jim Winger said. “We have to be patient. We’ve got a lot of new faces in a league that’s got a lot of older faces in it.”

 Lewiston (22-4, 8-2) returns just one starter in senior Justin Podrabsky (6-6 p). The Bengals not only graduated practically their roster, but they welcome a new coach.

 Corey Williams, a North Central graduate who was a head coach at Fallon, Nev., the past 12 years, takes over for Dave Cornelia, who resigned. The Bengals qualified for state in all eight years under Cornelia.

 Most of Lewiston’s team will be comprised of players moving up from junior varsity.

 “It’s hard to single out anybody right now because, honestly, I’m just learning who they are,” Williams said.

 ■In 4A, Sandpoint, Moscow and Lakeland are expected to wage a competitive battle similar to last season. Three of the five regional games between the teams were decided in overtime, and Sandpoint had to beat Moscow twice at Moscow to earn the region’s lone state berth.

 “It’s going to be tight like it was last year,” Sandpoint coach Tyler Haynes said.

 Moscow (9-13, 3-7) has been tabbed the favorite because it returns all five starters. The Bears didn’t have a senior last year. The returning starters are seniors Mac Stannard (6-2 g), Jason Fritz (5-10 g), Andrew Weaver (6-5 p) and Nick Clyde (6-3 p), and junior Jake Helbling (6-0 g).

 “We are fairly athletic,” Moscow coach Tracy Donaldson said.

 Sandpoint (10-16, 1-9) struggled in league last year, but the Bulldogs peaked at the right time. They return two starters in seniors Stefan Buratto (6-2 g) and Brandon Lawrence (6-2 p).

 “Those two are going to lead us,” Haynes said. “We expect a lot out of them.”

 Lakeland (7-14) returns two starters in senior Caleb Guerber (5-11 g) and junior Kyle English (5-11 pg). Another starter from two years ago, senior Joel Underdahl (6-1 g), is back after missing last season with a knee injury.

 “We’ll have a solid backcourt,” Lakeland coach Trent Derrick said. “The mystery for us right now is our posts. I think they’re capable, but we’ll see who evolves there.”

– Greg Lee