Oh, do we so love champions.
For good and bad. There are champions who are beloved. And there are those that we love to hate.
Yes, we mean you, New York Yankees. You, too, New England Patriots.
With kudos to Freddie Mercury and Queen, we are the champions at creating champions.
We are so good at it that we have championship ball caps and commemorative T-shirts for our champions to wear as soon as the game is over (never mind that there is an exact set of championship wear sitting in a box somewhere in the stadium with the other team’s name and logo on them).
We invented commemorative rings for our champions to wear to remind the rest of us that, well, they’re champions and we’re not.
We make belts for our champions to wear and trophies for them to hoist in the air. Some are new each year, others are perpetual and are passed on as a perpetual reminder of Lord Stanley.
League champions. State champions. Regional champions. Junior champions. Senior champions. Grand champions. National champions.
We will even make up ways of staging a national championship.
You can’t really call the way we crown the college football crown a true national championship. Instead, we call it a “mythical” title. We have a committee pick and choose who will play.
If we did the same thing for college basketball, Virginia, Villanova, Kansas and Xavier would have been seeded into a semifinal round. Loyola Chicago wouldn’t get so much of a sniff from a selection committee. Same with Michigan.
Yes, we love champions. But we love superlatives all the more – especially when we can add superlatives to our championships. We invent names like World Series and Super Bowl.
We crowned two national champions just this week.
Remember the Notre Dame women from that Monday night battle in the Spokane Arena against Kelly Graves and the Oregon Ducks? The Fighting Irish captured the NCAA women’s basketball title in the most exciting way possible – surviving the Final Four by hitting two buzzer-beaters to knock off UConn and Mississippi State.
The men’s title game was less exciting, but no less final.
Villanova won each of its six NCAA men’s tournament games by an average of almost 18 points. After a tournament that saw a No. 1 seed knocked off in a first-round game and a nation fall in love with a 98-year-old nun who loves to sneak a scouting report into her pregame prayer, it felt almost anti-climactic.
And in perhaps the coolest development of all, the Central Valley High School girls beat Hamilton Heights of Chattanooga, Tennessee, 66-61, to win the GEICO Nationals at Brooklyn’s Christ the King High School Saturday.
Hamilton Heights came into the game as the No. 1-ranked team in the country and the No. 1 seed into the four-team GEICO tournament. Central Valley was the No. 3 seed and the Bears knocked off Westlake of Atlanta in the semifinals, 70-57.
The win and the title brings an end to a magical season that saw the Lady Bears win 29 games with no losses.
USA Today, which features what it dubs “The Super 25 rankings” have Central Valley ranked No. 4 in its final poll. When it comes to ranking the best high school teams in the nation, there is not now, nor will there ever be, anything resembling a consensus.
Adding the mythical national championship to the exceptional run of success CV had this year is the perfect button to put on a season that will forever be considered the gold standard for girls basketball in the area.
Two state Class 4A championships in three seasons – both capping undefeated seasons – and just one loss over that span.
This group of seniors surpasses the great CV teams built around Emily Westerberg and the golden age of Greater Spokane League girls basketball.
Westerberg went on to star at Arizona State, where she was joined by CV teammate Reagan Pariseau, Post Falls’ Aubree Johnson and Lewis and Clark standout Briann January.
Three graduating seniors from this year’s Central Valley squad now head off to play Division I college basketball: Lacie and Lexie Hull head to Stanford while Hailey Christopher heads to Moscow to play at the University of Idaho.
Generations from now, Central Valley students who are yet to be born will stroll past the school’s trophy case and see the team photo from New York, with everyone smiling and celebrating with a big golden-ball trophy. Next to it will be a state championship trophy that will now look smaller.
They will read the names of the players and the names of the coaches.
They will feel pride in being Central Valley Bears.
And well they should.
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