Compared to Lake Roosevelt or Colton, the sense of relief at Northwest Christian for making the state basketball tournament may not draw much attention.
But when the Crusaders tip off against La Conner at 10:30 this morning in the State 2B boys tournament at the Arena, they’ll be as happy as anybody.
That includes Lake Roosevelt, which is dropping down from the 1A to make its first appearance in Spokane since the Raiders’ predecessors, Grand Coulee and Coulee Dam, were both here in 1960. That’s when Grand Coulee engineered one of the biggest upsets in B history against Ilwaco in the championship of its only appearance, and Coulee Dam finished eighth.
Coulee Dam returned for the third and final time in 1961, but that was it. The schools consolidated in 1971 and moved up. The Raiders made 10 State A tournaments, including the past three, with two sixth-place trophies.
As for the Colton boys over in 1B, the Wildcats have never been to state before this year.
So that makes Northwest Christian’s one-year absence seem quaint. But don’t forget the standards – the Crusaders had won four straight through 2009 and were in the 2005 title game. The school has been to state 15 times with 10 trophies.
“It was a long year. We look at it as a blessing in disguise,” NWC coach Ray Ricks said. “It made us really hungry this year and work hard. We appreciate the opportunity to play in the state basketball tournament after having that year off.”
It’s not like the Crusaders were horrible, winning 20 games and making it to the district tournament with a starting lineup of three sophomores and two juniors.
That was a far cry from the state championship run that included a lot of overlap, including Chase Ramey as the catalyst throughout the four seasons.
But even without experience, the Crusaders knew the legacy and were determined to live up to it.
“We definitely knew they were motivated,” Ricks said. “And they’re more mature. Last year we were talented, but didn’t have quite the mental toughness to buckle down. We had a lot of players that had never been in a varsity game. They were babes.
“This year was different. There was more focus. It felt like the guys were on more of a mission to get back in the tournament.”
A 22-2 record – that counts a sanctioned game (a loss) versus the alumni – bears that out. The other loss was to Colfax (22-3), which opens the tournament against Adna at 9 a.m. and could be a semifinal opponent.
Long-time State B fans might be surprised at the new Northwest Christian. The recent juggernaut was a guard-based team.
There is still a Ramey, with younger but bigger brother Cole, a 6-foot-4 senior, running the show.
“He’s kind of our motor,” Ricks said.
Ricks said Ramey is more suited to off-guard, but he made the decision to put him at point last summer and he’s contributing almost five assists per game along with 14.3 points.
It’s Ramey’s job to see the offense works inside out because the junior twin towers, 6-7 Reuben Clark and 6-5, “probably 6-6,” Kwinn Hampton.
The coach calls Clark the “Dodge Ram” and Hampton the “Escalade” for their style of play.
Hampton leads the team at 18.3 points a game and about seven rebounds, Clark’s at 9.8 and almost six rebounds. They have 72 blocked shots between them.
Sophomore guard Dakota Winward averages 10.3 points
“We’re big, very big compared to most B schools, which is interesting,” Ricks said. “We run a lot of offense though the big guys.”
That may be a change in style, but not in results.