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GSL’s University, LC girls are the early favorites at 4A regional

Throughout the season, girls coaches mentioned that basketball competition couldn’t get any tougher than it is within the Greater Spokane League.

They’ll find out how right they are tonight with the start of the ConAgra Foods/Lamb Weston 4A Regional Championships.

And boys coaches, after being swept in the regional tournament a year ago, would like to think there’s a state berth to be had this season.

Four games, two each at Central Valley and University Highs for the Greater Spokane League’s top-two district finishers, and four at Big Nine sites kick off the three-day event. It continues Friday and Saturday in Spokane.

Both the University and Lewis and Clark girls are favored to return to state and Eisenhower, which was nearly all sophomores last year, is the Big Nine district champion and a considered a likely bet.

The most intriguing game of the eight is Gonzaga Prep’s girls vs. Richland in Pasco. The Bullpups-Bombers game will be an indicator of how strong the GSL really is.

“I think (Prep) has a real good chance,” U-Hi coach Mark Stinson said. “But Richland is fundamental and very physical. I’d pay money to watch it.”

Stinson, of course, will have to pass. His Titans have pressing business themselves against Kennewick in the first game of the doubleheader at CV, followed by LC against Kamiakin.

He said Kennewick is experienced and disciplined and the Titans will have to play well to handle them. Kamiakin plays hard, with emotion and is scrappy.

However, said Tigers coach Jim Redmon, “Looking at them (the Big Nine), their bottom end is not very good.”

The other girls game is in Yakima and pits Mt. Spokane against Big Nine district champion Eisenhower, which missed out on state last year with a sophomore-dominated team, then replaced the coach. The Wildcats can cope with the Cadets’ size, said Redmon, it’s how they handle the fact it’s their first regional tournament.

While Richland has tradition, the Bombers are likely not as strong as last year’s fourth-place state finisher. That’s why its game with Prep is considered the X-factor in this year’s regional.

“I like the fact we played against great competition all year in league,” Bullpups coach Mike Arte said. “We’ve had to play a slowdown style and obviously we want to get the game going up and down as fast as possible. We can play that way, too.”

It will be Prep’s ability to play uptempo that will determine its success against the taller Bombers. They’ll have to do so without 5-foot-9 post Alex Butler, who tore an ACL Feb. 18.

Her replacement is 5-9 sophomore Tara Cronin, a vital part of Prep’s success off the bench, who can play any position. And Gonzaga gets contributions from its entire lineup.

“It will be an interesting week for us,” Arte said. “We’re excited to be there and have the ability to make it to state.”

It will be interesting as well for LC and U-Hi, whose only losses this year have come against each other and who are hoping to meet for the second straight year in the regional title game.

“It’s almost a new season,” Redmon said. “It’s nice for the kids and coaches. And we’re excited about it being in Spokane.”

The boys should be, too. It could be an advantage in the GSL’s bid to break up the Big Nine. Ferris plays Richland and Gonzaga Prep faces Davis, both of which qualified for state last year, at University.

The Saxons and Bullpups appear improved over last year, and U-Hi, which plays in Pasco, played with the hosts during the season. Shadle Park plays at district champion Eisenhower.

“This is bonus time,” Ferris head coach Barry Olson. “We play one more week and hopefully one more week after that.”

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