You can’t blame Kelsey Matthews for looking forward to this weekend.
Oh, sure, the Central Valley High School junior guard was looking forward to back-to-back Greater Spokane League basketball games – Friday with Mt. Spokane and today’s game with Ferris – teams the Bears beat by a combined margin of 80 points. A sweep would give the team a dozen wins.
“We knew we were a much-improved team over last year but we didn’t know we’d matched our win total from last year until (coach Freddie) Rehkow told us,” Matthews admitted. “We weren’t thinking in terms of number of wins until he mentioned it. That’s pretty cool.”
But wins and losses weren’t what had Matthews living for the weekend.
“This has been finals week,” Matthews laughed. “There has been so much going on this week that you cannot imagine. I’ll be so glad when it’s over.”
Finals are just the latest tests the Central Valley Bears have passed this season.
The team has a solid group of returning seniors and juniors, including Matthews – a three-year starter. But it’s been the play of three freshmen that have turned a young team into one capable of playing, and beating, some of the best Class 4A teams the state has to offer – witnessed by a one-point win over sixth-ranked Mead, a team whose only other loss was to top-ranked Lewis and Clark.
“That win was so huge for us,” Matthews said. “It was a huge confidence boost.
“It was one of our freshmen who hit the big shot that put us up by a point to win that game: Whitney (Black). I talked to her about it afterward and she told me that, for the first time, she was really capable of being that kind of player for us. I was so happy for her and so pleased to hear that from her.”
Matthews has been a regular sounding board for the team’s young players. She knows the pressures of playing varsity basketball at Central Valley long before you’re old enough to test for a learner’s permit, let alone a driver’s license.
“I was lucky enough to be picked to play varsity basketball when I was a freshman and I got the chance to play,” Matthews said. “I know what it’s like to come in and compete with upper classmen the way these girls are. One of our seniors, Brittany Catron, does, too. Our freshmen know they can come talk to either of us and that we’re there for them.”
“Kelsey is one of those players who understands what it means to be part of the Central Valley girls basketball tradition,” Rehkow said. “She’s one of those kids who just gets it.”
A year ago the Bears were 5-15 during the regular season, but stepped up their level of play in the postseason, knocking off rival University to reach the Class 4A regional tournament.
“Our best player last year, far and away, was Justine Bowman,” Matthews said. “Bowie’s one of my best friends, but I really think that we’re a better team this year because we’re not standing around, waiting for her to pump in 26 points or something like that.”
What makes the Bears dangerous, she says, is the fact that, on any given night, any number of players can step up and put the team on its back.
Against University, that was Matthews. Against the rival Titans, Matthews pumped in six three-pointers and poured in 26 points.
That was a turning point in the season for her. Before the U-Hi game, she’d scored in double figures only once, tossing in three long-range field goals and putting up 11 points. Since that game, she’s failed to score in double figures only once – throwing in just one three-pointer in the Bears one-point win over Mead in a defensive struggle, a game that saw the two teams score a combined 83 points.
Including tonight’s game with Ferris, the Bears have just five games remaining, including a rematch with Lewis and Clark on the Tigers home court.
“We played with (the Tigers) for three quarters,” Rehkow said. “But we let them outscore us by 15 points in the second quarter and that was the difference in the game.”
“If we find ourselves in a situation where we have to beat LC in order to get to state, I am confident that this team will find a way to win,” Matthews said. “I know we still have our best basketball ahead of us. And when we get there, we’re going to be a hard team to beat.”
Also looming ahead is the annual Stinky Sneaker game Feb. 10 with University at the Arena.
“I am really looking forward to the Stinky Sneaker game this year,” Matthews said. “It’s always such a great game and an exciting game. It is so loud in the Arena with everyone screaming and yelling that I can’t hear (coach) Rehkow yelling at me from the bench.
“We’re going into that game with a lot of momentum and that is the kind of game that keeps you going if you come away from it with the W.”