TACOMA – The Greater Spokane League has been the benchmark for girls big-school basketball the past decade.
Jumping on that bench Saturday – and probably occupying it for a while – was Central Valley.
Playing with no fear, youthful Central Valley dispatched the Snohomish Panthers 57-48 in the State 4A championship game at the Tacoma Dome.
It’s the third straight state title for the GSL and eighth in the last 11 years.
It’s also the third time in CV history that a Bears team finished the season as undefeated state champions.
“They answered every challenge,” CV coach Freddie Rehkow said. “Every time I challenged them they answered it.”
Snohomish didn’t make it easy on the Bears – especially 6-foot-1 senior post Madeline Smith, who scored all of the Panthers’ 13 points in the third quarter. She finished with a game-high 28, making 10 of 13 shots from the field and 8 of 10 from the free-throw line.
“It got real physical and we weren’t handling it real well,” Rehkow said. “I wasn’t handling it real well. I made them a deal. I said here’s the challenge – you calm down, I’ll calm down and we’ll go do what we do. That’s when we went on that little spurt.”
Smith was so deadly with her physical presence inside that Rehkow had to pull his team out of its man-to-man defense and go to a 2-3 zone.
It worked well as Smith scored just three points in the final quarter.
Smith hit a free-throw length jumper to pull Snohomish within 31-30 with 1:25 to go in the third quarter. But CV got the lead to 35-30 going into the fourth.
Smith’s final basket pulled Snohomish even at 35-35 with 5:52 remaining.
CV responded, going on a 12-2 surge. In that span, the Bears got big 3-pointers from Lacie Hull and freshmen Camryn Skaife and Mady Simmelink.
“We had to find new ways to guard her (Smith) because she was killing us on the inside,” Lexie Hull said. “Being able to pack our defense on the inside and take away her shots was our biggest improvement.”
The lead advanced to 47-37 with 2:40 to go, putting CV in a good place. The Bears made 10 of 12 foul shots in the final 1:32 to secure the title.
Lexie Hull was named tournament MVP by the media. She finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.
Stepping up was sophomore post Hailey Christopher, who had 16 points. Simmelink added 12 and Skaife had five assists, four steals and four rebounds.
Christopher knew she needed to contribute.
“We knew that they were going to try to face guard Lexie and Lacie, so I stepped up and tried to get some easy buckets,” Christopher said. “I knew there’d be opportunities.”
CV’s all-around contributions trumped the combined efforts of Snohomish.
“You know what with Central Valley, as much as you know what you need to do, it’s tough because they’re so stinking quick. They’re good,” said Snohomish coach Ken Roberts, whose team downed Lewis and Clark 54-50 on Thursday. “I’m sure their sophomores have played more basketball than our seniors. I’m not surprised. They deserve all the credit. They’re a great team.”
Lexie Hull wasn’t surprised by the play of freshmen Skaife and Simmelink.
“Without them it would have been a completely different game,” Hull said.
CV also was named academic state champs with a combined grade-point average of 3.92.
With the season completed, finishing undefeated wasn’t lost on the Bears.
“It’s a great feeling,” Lexie Hull said. “To look back and see all the hard work in practice – that’s finally paid off.”
Rehkow reflected as well.
“We haven’t talked about being undefeated all year long,” he said. “Now we’ll talk about being undefeated. This has been a process. You ask any of the girls they’ll tell you it’s been a process. The record has never been talked about in our locker room. That’s what is amazing about this group.”
Rehkow was asked how much the GSL prepares teams that qualify for state.
“We battle,” he said of the GSL. “You look at the LCs, the Meads, the Preps, the CVs and even look at Mt. Spokane. They gave Bellevue a great game. We’re battle tested by the time we get over here. We really emphasize defense (in league).”
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