March 12, 1998 in Washington Voices

Season Of Firsts Despite Crushing Loss In B Tourney Championship, Valley Christian Team Can County Many Successes

By The Spokesman-Review

The Valley Christian School basketball team had just lost 70-51 in the State B championship game and the disappointment on the players’ faces masked the true nature of a season filled with success.

“We just went in the tank. It was the worst game we played all year,” lamented senior guard Michael Spuler, slumped on the team bench, a study in dejection. “I have no clue why it happened.”

Added fellow senior Brian Sears, “I’m kind of disappointed tonight. We didn’t come out to play.”

In truth, the opposition may have had a hand in that. State B title winner Chief Leschi’s aggressiveness, on defense and around the basket, disrupted Valley Christian’s rhythm.

Untimely turnovers or missed scoring opportunities by the Panthers enabled the Warriors to ride an emotional tide that led to a championship in their first State B appearance.

Valley Christian players, once the disappointment subsides, can take solace in the fact theirs was a season of firsts as well.

“This is the best team in school history, and the best group of kids,” said Valley Christian coach Steve Altmeyer. “They accomplished more than anyone else and can be thankful for that.”

The litany of accomplishment is worth repeating. The Panthers won their first Bi-County championship and league tournament. They won a first District 7 tourney title to qualify for their first state tournament.

By finishing second, truth be told, they went as far as any first-time entrant had a right to expect, even though, said Spuler, “when you get this far, second is not really that enjoyable.”

Consider, however, that of the 16 teams entered in the tournament, eight did not place and six others finished lower than did the Panthers.

They got solid efforts from seniors Sears, Spuler and Derek Sandin. They showed off the future, junior point guard Jeremy Decker, budding sophomore stars Eric Smith and Jared Evans and sweet-shooting freshman Brent Decker.

Spuler was first-team and Sears second-team all-tournament. They scored in double figures led by Sears’ 14.8 average. Sandin averaged 9.5 points and was the team’s leading rebounder at 8.8 per game.

Three others scored in double figures once, including Smith. The 6-1 youngster proved an uncanny rebounder, with 26 in his last two games.

Valley Christian’s road to the State B began last summer when Altmeyer insisted that the team play against the area’s big schools in the Spokane Community College summer league.

Initially they were put in a league with other small schools.

“I asked to be in the other one,” Altmeyer said he told summer league officials. “I think we can compete.”

The team did so without Sears and for half of the season without Spuler because of injury.

“We won half our games and only got beat by one, Ferris, by more than four points,” said Altmeyer. “I think it was a confidence builder.”

A tough non-league schedule steeled the players for their state run. Once in the Arena, they showed none of the jitters normally associated with tourney neophytes.

Indeed, said Altmeyer after its semifinal victory over Curlew, “Believe it or not, a lot of our kids thought we’d be here (in the finals) before this. I said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get through the first game.’ ”

Valley Christian won its first two tournament games by an average of 22 points. They trailed Curlew by as many as nine points in the third quarter of the semifinals, due primarily to turnovers and with leading scorer Sears in foul trouble.

But a calm came over the team and they shredded the Cougars with crisp passing for easy baskets and a 66-58 triumph. It was the second victory in a week over Curlew.

“It’s sweeter the second time,” said Altmeyer.

So the players must take heart that, despite the televised title loss, what went on last week in the Spokane Arena was a big deal. Not only for them but for their followers.

Former coach Darrell Boorman was present to see the fruition of what, in essence, he began. Former players were in the stands to witness history.

“I’m glad it was them and not me,” said 1992 graduate and two-sport star Steve Barr. “I’d have been a puddle out there.”

Sears tried to put it into perspective.

“We’re just kind of getting somewhere for the alumni who never did,” he said. “It’s great to get to state even if we are not first place.”

The championship contest may have been, as coaches and players agreed, their worst outing of the season. But nearly every team there would have died for the chance.

“Right now it’s an emotional time for the kids,” said Altmeyer. “But they have to stop and realize they have a lot to be thankful for.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 5 Color Photos

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