For the past four seasons, the Central Valley girls basketball team has been the bully of the Greater Spokane League, with two state titles and three consecutive undefeated regular seasons in its wake.
Many expected a drop-off this season. Lexie and Lacie Hull completed their high school careers and are plying their trade at Stanford, and longtime teammate Hailey Christopher joined them in the Division I ranks at Idaho.
On top of that, national girls basketball coach of the year Freddie Rehkow retired to spend more time with family.
While the Bears won’t complete a fourth consecutive undefeated season, they reside in first place among GSL 4A teams, as Tuesday’s 72-61 win over Lewis and Clark put CV (10-2, 6-1) one game ahead of the Tigers (10-3, 5-2) and University (10-3, 5-2) with seven league games remaining.
It’s still anyone’s title to grab, but CV has made a statement that it doesn’t want to relinquish the crown yet.
First-year coach Ryan Bragdon knew coming in he was stepping into some big shoes and realizes that the rest of the league won’t mind seeing a new 4A champ.
“That’s what we’re still learning – that everybody wants to beat CV,” he said Friday after the Bears won 61-39 in Gonzaga Prep’s new gym. “We’re embracing it as well as we can.
“We’ve got a good squad, but we face everybody’s best. It’s good for us now and we’ll take some lumps but keep moving forward.”
Bragdon has been leaning on seniors Mady Simmelink and Tomekia Whitman after the exodus of leadership from last year’s squad.
“I feel like being a senior and being on the team for four years I need to lead the team when we struggle,” Simmelink said.
CV has split with LC and has a nonleague loss to Mt. Spokane, which is cruising to another GSL 3A regular-season title. The pair face off in their league game on Jan. 22 at CV.
Mt. Spokane coach David Pratt thinks an open race at the top of the league is good for everybody.
“It is exciting,” Pratt said earlier this season. “Make no mistake, CV is good. They bring back a good crew. They have a good new coach that knows what he’s doing who has roots there. So that’s a big deal.
“U-Hi, us and LC, we all have an opportunity to battle it out. … But for us to be considered one of those top teams, that’s fun.”
Still, it meant something extra to Mt. Spokane’s players when they topped CV last week whether it was a league game or not.
“I’m so happy to finally beat them,” senior all-league guard Aspyn Adams said. “Fourth year, senior year, it’s about time.”
In this week’s RPI ratings, CV is No. 4, LC is fifth and U-Hi is 12th in 4A. Mt. Spokane is No. 1 in 3A.
Everyone expected Gonzaga Prep (11-2, 7-0) to follow up its state title with another strong season behind Gonzaga recruit Anton Watson.
The only blemishes against the Bullpups’ record are a pair of losses in national tournaments, including a 58-53 decision to University School of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a national top-10 program that includes Duke signee Vernon Carey, Jr., in the Les Schwab Invitational over the holidays in Hillsboro, Oregon.
G-Prep is ranked No. 2 in 4A by WIAA’s RPI this week.
Mt. Spokane (12-1, 4-1) is rated No. 2 in state 3A, with its sole loss this season a 64-44 decision to G-Prep.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.