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New-look state tournaments tip off Friday

The road to Tacoma, Yakima and Spokane for boys and girls basketball teams – or, in this case, the road to the Hardwood Classic as the WIAA has dubbed it – begins with stops in Spokane, Richland, Walla Walla, Ellensburg and Wenatchee for Eastern Washington schools Friday and Saturday.

Yes, the state tournaments as we’ve known them take on a different feel this year. Now all the state tournaments are being held on the same weekend – or, in this case, weekends, beginning with first-round games involving 16 teams at four regional sites and condensing to the Elite Eight with the 4A and 3A teams at Tacoma, the 2A and 1A teams at Yakima and the 2B and 1B teams in Spokane.

Yes, in an odd way, the B tournaments are back together in Spokane – not the way your fathers and mothers remember them, but at least they’re together at the same site.

There will be stories about teams seeking back-to-back championships. There will be stories about upsets and great disappointments. But closer to home, in Spokane, there’s the story about a program that has wallowed among some of the worst in the state for many years but has finally broken through.

We give you the North Central girls. One of the oldest schools in the state added another chapter to its history when NC won three consecutive loser-out games to earn its first state berth.

The architect for the turnaround is second-year coach Gabe Medrano, who took a program that allowed an average of 66 points per game three years ago to a team holding opponents to fewer than 39 points.

“They’ve done a great job of buying in and believing and just trusting in the stuff that we’ve been doing all year,” Medrano said.

Medrano thought his team could break through last year.

“Last year we did so many great things,” he said. “We went into regionals playing well. But we didn’t have that experience finishing games and how to step up the intensity in the playoffs. Then some of us went over to watch at state. We knew we could play there, that we could play with those teams. We just wanted to make sure we didn’t let it slip by again.”

Now the Indians (16-8) get their chance to prove they belong. The first round of the State 3A girls and boys tournaments will be at Shadle Park and Spokane Falls Community College, respectively.

NC takes on Kamiakin (15-5) at 6 p.m. Friday at Shadle Park with the NC boys (11-12) taking on second-ranked Kamiakin (21-2) at 8:30 at SFCC. The game was moved back 30 minutes to accommodate fans from the girls game who desire to watch the boys.

Medrano expects his team to continue to do what’s carried them all season.

“They played hard every night and they just fought,” Medrano said. “They have big hearts and I’m proud of all of them. We’re there (at state), let’s have some fun and make some noise. We broke the door down; now let’s go have some fun.”

Senior guard Lindsey Schaefer is thankful to be part of NC’s story.

“It’s cool to be part of something that’s never happened before,” Schaefer said. “We can do something at state. We were able to do something in the (Greater Spokane League) and it’s supposed to be one of the hardest leagues in the state.”