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Washington Voices

Unity, Confidence Put Panthers On Verge Of Winning League

Sat., Jan. 31, 1998, midnight

Valley Christian School basketball player Michael Spuler got his first taste of Bi-County League tournament play as a freshman.

The experience whetted his appetite for more.

One of three siblings to have played for the Panthers, Spuler is in position to do something his older brothers Aaron, currently a junior varsity assistant coach, and Phil didn’t accomplish.

Valley Christian can win the Bi-County League championship.

“They didn’t have the opportunity I do, what with our coach and surrounding team,” said Spuler.

Valley Christian has already clinched its first division title. Next goal is to be the No. 1 seed in the league tournament, an unprecedented feat for Valley Christian that this year’s team could accomplish by winning its final three games.

“You almost don’t want to talk about it,” said Spuler. “You might jinx yourself.”

Going into Friday night’s contest against Sprague-Harrington, the Panthers were 14-2. Included were two victories over Great Northern League 2A team Riverside.

Their lone league loss was an inexplicable 42-38 home defeat to Odessa in which the Panthers were outscored 18-0 in the final quarter.

“We kind of acted like we already had won the game and only took six shots in the fourth quarter,” said Spuler. “On my part it was a total lack of confidence shooting and taking care of the ball.”

Spuler’s confidence level has increased with each of his four years on the team.

His average of 15.3 points per game leads the team and is nearly identical to last year when he was the team’s second-leading scorer.

That season the Panthers came within a win of qualifying for state.

“At the end of last year I basically told myself and the team I didn’t want to drop another game until the end of the state tournament,” said Spuler.

The Panthers, including the team that Aaron led in scoring in 1994 and that Phil was a defensive standout on in 1995, have never had the type of season Valley Christian is presently enjoying.

“The difference is unity,” said their younger brother. “That’s something we didn’t have last year.”

The team is deep. Seven different players have scored in double figures.

“We have so many good players, we haven’t had a real star,” said coach Steve Altmeyer.

They have rallied around their upbeat, second-year coach. Altmeyer, said Spuler, has instilled a work ethic and spiritual dimension they haven’t had in the past.

“This is the first time I’ve had the same coach for two consecutive years,” said Spuler. “He is a true believer in us. A lot more than we are in ourselves sometimes.”

Because of his historical perspective and four years of experience, Spuler has been asked to be the leader and, according to his coach, is a “gamer” for the team.

“I couldn’t have done it without the team to take the focus off of me,” the modest Spuler said.

The Spulers farmed near Cheney and the family lived there until the boys’ dad, Steve, became a Spokane Valley Fire District 1 firefighter. They’ve since moved to the Valley.

Aaron, who played a year with a national champion at Multnomah Bible College in Oregon, is finishing his education at Gonzaga University. Phil still attends Multnomah.

What does the future hold for their brother?

Right now, Michael Spuler and his teammates are focused on qualifying for state and maybe accomplishing more.

“One thing coach tells us a lot is that if we work hard and give ourselves to the Lord, you don’t know how He’ll bless us,” said Spuler, “I want to play well for the Lord. And win all our games.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo



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