REARDAN, Wash. – Sometimes it’s good to go against the grain. Eastern Washington wheat towns have been taking a hit for years, but Reardan has bucked the trend. The population has held steady at 600 and business is good. It doesn’t hurt that Spokane is half an hour away.
Not so this week, when Spokane will suck the economic life out of eastern Lincoln County, along with many of its residents.
And that’s a good thing, especially if the three-day recession ends with the celebration of a third straight championship at the girls’ State 2B tournament at the Spokane Arena. That dedication isn’t lost on the players.
Says senior post Katy Burge, “Even when out running errands or doing chores, I’ll run into someone who says ‘I know all about you Reardan girls.’
“It’s very special.”
Always has been. Back in the day of the old 16-team tournament at the Spokane Coliseum, the Indians won six state boys’ titles from 1966 to 1982. Current girls’ coach Ed Shields, a farmer from Harrington, grew up at the tournament, then played town ball with the Soliday clan before becoming a coach himself.
“I grew to love it,” said Shields, who played high school ball but says he “wasn’t very good” because he grew too fast.
B basketball had the opposite problem – shrinking pains – as the economy drew young families and basketball players from the farm and forced rival schools to join forces or give up the game. Hyphenate or die. When even that wasn’t enough, the B classification was split in two to allow the smallest schools to stay in the game. One tradition gave way to another, grudgingly for some who loved the 16-team format.
“Nobody likes change, but the change had to come,” Shields said. “With so many small schools and the farm towns getting smaller, so splitting them up is a good idea.”
A winning tradition
It never came to that in Reardan, where visitors from the west are greeted by a sign on Highway 2 that displays the school’s 30 state championships. Five of them were earned in basketball and volleyball in the last three years by an extraordinary group of girls, five of them seniors with three games left in their high school careers.
“I feel honored and lucky to be part of this team, and overall I’m stunned at how well our career has gone,” said senior guard Tori Wynecoop.
That includes two straight titles and a 75-4 record going into Thursday’s first-round game against White Swan. The Indians field a deep, experienced team that includes standout guard Kelsey Moos, who will play next year at Arizona State. This year’s team is 24-1, losing only at Class 1A Brewster.
But if the Indians are odds-on favorites to repeat as champs, they overcame a few obstacles to get here. For one, Shields got the job almost by accident. He had coached the Sprague-Harrington girls to several state appearances, including a state title in 2007, before taking a two-year break the following year.
Shields learned of the vacancy at Reardan in 2010 from a newspaper article, but missed the application deadline. “It was a goofy deal,” Shields said, but three days later the school called back and granted an interview.
Soon, the job was his, along with a young team full of promise. Burge, Moos and senior guard Charlene Gray had played youth and AAU ball since the third grade. Wynecoop came along a few years later, and guard Chantel Heath joined the program as a freshman.
“These players are made from third to seventh grade,” Shields said. “All we try to do is sharpen their skills a little bit.
“I’m honored just to be able to coach them.”
Shields worked to complement Moos’ talents by developing post players and good shooters on the wing. The work was quickly rewarded with a 24-3 record and a state title in 2011. Assessing his first season at the trophy presentation after a 55-42 win over Toutle Lake, Shields smiled and said, “I think we’re there.”
It got better. Last year, the Indians went 27-0, pulling away from Brewster in the fourth quarter to win a second straight title, 65-57. Reardan trailed early in the fourth quarter, but according to Burge, “We started seeing each other on the court, then Chantel hit a big shot and it got people going.”
For Wynecoop, the enduring memory was “watching the clock go down from six seconds and (then-senior) Lauren Schulz drop the ball and look at me with a stunned expression, giving me a hug and then start crying.”
The final quarter
This season, the Indians have dominated most of their opponents. Even the loss at Brewster was a welcome chance “to get after it,” according to Shields, who along with assistant Brittney Kubik focused this year on reading opposing defenses and fine-tuning the offense.
“When you lose yourself in the game, really you know things are going to get done,” Burge said.
League rival Northwest Christian led by nine points at halftime in a district playoff game, but the Indians switched to a man defense, outscored the Crusaders 40-15 in the second half and won going away. “When we play our man, we’re really tough,” Shields said.
“I think you’re seeing one of the best basketball teams at the B level that’s ever been.”
That doesn’t mean Shield is overconfident. Before last week’s loser-out Regional game against Toutle Lake, Shields was wearing his nerves on his sleeve. Moos took notice.
“She knew I was nervous, it’s loser-out,” Shields said. “Kelsey looks at me and says. “You’re nervous, aren’t you? No reason to be.”