It’s been a new year with a new set of challenges for the Central Valley girls basketball team.
A year ago the Bears were a very talented but very young squad that posted an undefeated season capped by the state Class 4A state title.
“It’s been a little different this year than last year,” coach Freddie Rehkow said. “Expectations come and so do the pressures that some of the kids have to deal with, through the media, through social media and through family.”
For one thing, the coach explained, this group has posted an even more impressive record this season.
For starters there’s the fact that the Bears allow opponents an average of less than 24 points per game while putting up an average of more than 61.
And then there’s the fact that the Central Valley bench sees about 40 percent of the playing time. On the one hand, that means that there is a strong depth of experience there when the team dips into its reserves.
“At the same time you have to wonder about what’s going to happen if we play a close game and our starters need to play deeper into the game,” Rehkow said. “My starters aren’t getting as much floor time as they got last year and maybe our conditioning hasn’t been as tested as it was last year.
“We work hard in practice and I’m sure we’ll be fine. But …”
Then there’s the persistent questioning.
“We don’t talk about it, but I hear it,” Rehkow said. “They get it all the time – about the record, about the state titles. Are you going to go undefeated again? I don’t know. Are you going to win a second-straight state title? A third state title? I don’t know.
“What I do know is that there isn’t a group of kids out there who hates to lose as much as this group.”
On Tuesday the Bears were still waiting to find out who their Wednesday opponent would be. On the other hand, it really doesn’t matter.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not important.
This year the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association implemented an RPI (ratings percentage index), a fancy way of placing a numerical value on a team’s schedule – basically ranking the teams you’ve played.
The Lady Bears are 48-0 over the last two seasons, ranked No. 1 in the state at the Class 4A level, ranked No. 15 in the nation by USA Today.
In the latest state RPI rankings, Central Valley is ranked No. 6. Moses Lake, a team the Bears beat 51-39 this season, is ranked three slots higher than the Bears.
“If the playoffs started today, we’d be on the road according to those rankings,” Rehkow said. “That’s just one more distraction. I know the girls get asked about it.”
It’s been a whirlwind of a year, Rehkow said. It’s also been a year with intense perspective.
His youngest son, 11-year-old Cameron, is battling leukemia.
The entire team has adopted Cam and made it a team mission to help keep his spirits up.
“And he’s their biggest fan, too,” the coach said. “That’s helped on some of his toughest days. But for me, as a father, the coolest thing is that he’s been able to be on our bench these last few games. When we won the Greater Spokane League title, he was able to climb the ladder and help us cut down the net.”
Cameron currently is in maintenance, his father said. He’ll continue with chemotherapy for the next two-and-a-half years, but he’s beginning to get some of his strength back. As a family, they must be patient, he said.
“I think that, for me, this has made me more sympathetic to kids,” Rehkow said. “And at the same time, I’m less tolerant. With my family we’ve always had a hug/love policy. After the game we give them a hug, we tell them we love them and then it’s game over.
“I see so many kids getting pressured by their family and friends, and I don’t think that’s right.”
In fact, Rehkow said he would love for his team to take a page from the outstanding two-time state championship Central Valley teams starring Emily Westerberg – a squad that won titles in 2001 and 2002 and reached the finals in 2003.
“The one thing I think those teams had that this one could learn is an ability to put all that stuff aside and just go out there and have fun,” Rehkow said. “We’re getting there.”
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