Cariann Kunkel had the makings of a star from early on in her Hiawatha Red Hawk sports career.
A standout volleyball player, track and field athlete and a budding star on the basketball court, Kunkel shined even as a freshman. All League honors on the court and state appearances for the track team were regular occurrences for the Hiawatha native during the first three seasons of a Red Hawk career that still litter the Hiawatha High School record books. Then came the news that the family would be relocating.
Starting over in Hamilton, Mont., as a senior was difficult, but Kunkel joined a senior-laden Hamilton Broncs basketball squad and meshed well from the start.
Kunkel provided an immediate spark, helping to lead the team to a 21-6 record and winning Bitterroot Valley Player of the Year, as well as Southwestern A MVP. She would follow up her stellar high school career with a turn at Washington’s Wenatchee Valley College, where the team would go 28-5 in her freshman season, winning a Northwest Athletic Conference title. Kunkel, who averaged just under 11 points per game throughout the season, broke out for 22 points in the championship game to help the Knights pull off the upset in the tournament finale.
A strong sophomore season ended prematurely due to Covid-19, and Kunkel was on the move again, this time to the University of Montana-Billings. The MSU Jackets have seen Kunkel’s help to lead the team to a 4-2 start to their shortened season, most recently scoring 23 points to lead the Billings squad to a hard-fought win over Rocky Mountain College.
While Cariann Kunkel took her game to a new level and is quickly becoming a Montana women’s basketball legend, in Hiawatha, Kansas, she will always be remembered as the popular Lady Red Hawk star-in-the-making who left too soon.