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State Champion Indians Spike Earlier Showings

How, North Central volleyball coach Linda Bushinksi was asked, did a team that finished fourth in the Greater Spokane League end up as State AAA champion?

“That’s a good question,” NC’s fourth-year coach answered. “We really didn’t show up until the district tournament match against University, and then we started to roll.”

Faced with a loser-out game against the Titans, the Indians responded and today are sitting on top of the world.

An Indian team shared second place in the GSL in 1981, but that had been about the extent of NC’s previous volleyball excitement.

In a school where state tournament success has been limited to boys basketball titles in 1928, 1930 and 1948, a cross country championship in 1977 and a smattering of other places, NC’s win has created an atmosphere in which kids now see that they can succeed, said Bushinski.

And the championship excited the school as a whole.

Which makes this upstart team’s accomplishment so special.

“I don’t know if it was the fact the girls didn’t have any pressure on them all season,” Bushinski said of NC’s stunning achievement, “but when they knew they had something to prove, they did it.”

There were several defining moments leading up to the title, she said, including the dominant threegame district win over U-Hi that advanced the Indians to regional.

“I knew if we played like we played against University, we could easily go to state,” said Bushinski.

Then there was a regional opening win over top Big Nine seed Walla Walla.

“I think the Walla Walla game showed that the girls took up the challenge,” said Bushinski.

In state, NC swept its pool and shocked River Ridge of Lacey in two games during the semifinals.

“Everyone said how wonderful River Ridge was, that they were the team to beat,” said Bushinski. “Coming out of a tough pool undefeated, I knew we had a pretty good chance.”

The championship game was also a meeting of former player against her coach. Bushinski had played for Buzzie Welch, now the coach at Lewis and Clark, when he guided Rogers to its only state appearance.

Playing the Tigers was, as a result, both scary and special.

North Central lost to LC twice during the regular season but won in regionals and again for the state title, rallying from a first-game defeat to win twice.

“He’s been coaching how many years and has a bunch of tricks up his sleeve,” said Bushinski.

“This is only the fourth year I’ve been coaching at the varsity level. And he’d done so much for me over the years.”

More gratifying was the performance of her players.

Established stars Aimee Wilson and Tamara Van Engelen proved tough to handle at the net. Seniors Erin Schumacher and Heidi Greenwood made big plays throughout the year.

Setter Sarah Menard was an important factor defensively.

“She’d throw an arm out and pop the ball up, which was key,” said Bushinski. “Heidi would pick up ground for us.

“At times Erin was on a hitting roll. That first night against Walla Walla she hit 100 percent. Everything she hit was a kill.”

And so, despite all the volleyball accomplishments in Bushinski’s career, the look on her players’ faces after their state championship will be remembered forever.

“Seeing them lined up after they won state was probably the most special moment,” she said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo