While everyone is in the mood to be thankful (or just plain tired from shopping on Black Friday) it would be good to look back on the most recent high school basketball season with gratitude.
Area schools are busily preparing for the new season, with the first slate of games scheduled for next week. Tryouts are over, rosters have been pared and the practices are well under way in every school gym in Valley.
And while every team now sports the same record of no wins and no losses, Spokane Valley has rarely seen a season like the last one – particularly in the Central Valley School District and its neighbor directly to the south, Freeman.
Both Central Valley High School teams reached the state Class 4A finals a year ago.
The CV boys opened the season with back-to-back losses and were just 3-3 six games into the season. But from there, the Bears were on fire, running off a school-record 19 straight victories to advance to the state championship game, where they fell to No. 1-ranked Davis of Yakima, 48-42.
Central Valley’s lone state championship in boys basketball came in 1967-’68, but it was the school’s second appearance in the boys final under head coach Rick Sloan.
In fact, the finish capped an exceptional fall and winter for Sloan, who doubles as offensive coordinator for a football team that placed third at state a year ago.
The Central Valley girls have a much more storied history at state, with three state championship trophies in the school trophy case. The Lady Bears won their first title in 1993, lost in the final game in 1997 (to Federal Way, 56-45) and captured back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002. They missed out on a three-peat in 2003, falling to Prairie, 44-39, in the championship game. In addition, the Lady Bears reached the state semifinals three more times (losing to Auburn in 1985, Mead in 1990, and Prairie in 2000).
The Lady Bears came down to last-second shots, both good and bad, a year ago.
In the semifinals, Sydney Emory drilled a three-pointer from the corner with 4.9 seconds left in the game to lift CV past top-ranked Mount Rainier, 42-40.
But in the title game, the tables were turned.
Aubrey Ward-El’s three-pointer at the buzzer lifted Skyview to its first state championship, stunning the Lady Bears, 46-43. What made that final shot all the more memorable, or infamous if you prefer, is that Ward-El had missed all 10 of her attempts from the field before letting fly as the clock ran out.
On the other side of the school district, both the boys and girls from University were having similarly outstanding seasons.
Coach Garrick Phillips had the Titans in the state tournament for the first time since 1985 and on the verge of their first appearance in a state championship boys basketball game, leading Rainer Beach by as many as 10 points in the first half of last year’s Class 3A semifinals.
But the third quarter changed all that. The Vikings went on a 21-8 run in the period to take the lead for good, although U-Hi battled back to trail by just three points, 53-50, before Rainier Beach’s Anrio Adams knocked down six of his 11 points in the final two minutes for a 61-53 victory.
The next night, the Titans rebounded from the loss behind four players scoring in double figures to knock out Kamiakin, 63-50, to claim a third-place trophy.
Girls coach Mark Stinson got his Lady Titans into the semifinals as well, but their game with eventual state champion Prairie was not close, with the Falcons leading by as many as 28 points before U-Hi rallied to make the final margin 55-41.
In the consolation final, Cleveland built a 33-22 lead in the first half and cruised to the third-place trophy, leaving the Lady Titans a fifth-place finish.
At Freeman, the Scotties were bidding for a third straight championship under coach Ashlee Nimri, but came up one rally short in the Class 1A finals in the SunDome in Yakima.
Okanogan used a fast start and a 10-4 lead after one quarter to hold off the two-time defending champions with a 44-36 victory.
The Scotties had trouble shooting in the first half of their final two games of the season. In the semifinal win over Lynden Christian, the team needed a fourth-quarter rally to overcome the Lyncs behind the play of then-junior post Molly McIntyre.
Against the Bulldogs from Okanogan, Freeman again struggled early. Leading scorer Alyssa Maine tried to will the Scotties into a comeback and managed to score 15 points, but on 6-for-18 shooting with McIntyre on the bench for much of the second half with four fouls.
Across the valley, West Valley came within a game of reaching the state tournament after finishing the Great Northern League season tied with league champion Pullman at 19-2.
In a back-and-forth regional championship game, the Eagles and Greyhounds were tied with a minute to play, but Pullman pulled away from the free throw line for a 49-45 victory.