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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Steve Christilaw: Coaching carousel can be rewarding

They call it the coaching carousel.

Comparing it to a merry-go-round may be the most apt description you can give the world of the coach. It’s all ups and downs, you tend to be right in the middle of the carnival and, definitely, what goes around, comes around. If your timing is good, you have the right horse and the stars align, you get to take a grab at the brass ring.

But most of all, when you stop and look around, it can be a great ride.

The ride has been extra sweet for Freddie Rehkow. The Central Valley coach was named Monday the National High School Girls Basketball Coach of the Year by the National High School Coaches Association.

I can think of no one who deserves that kind of recognition more.

It’s not just the accomplishments that earned him this kind of recognition. Two state championships in three years, three straight undefeated regular seasons capped by beating Hamilton Heights in Brooklyn for the GEICO High School Nationals championship – that’s impressive.

Until you look at how the Bears accomplished those feats.

Freddie rarely uses personal pronouns like I and Me. He always talks about his teams in collective terms. He calls it a “we before me” approach. In typical fashion, he shared his award with the entire program.

And his program turns out players who are just as selfless as their coach.

In a sport where, too often, a few of the best players treat the defensive end of the court as a place to rest up between offensive outbursts, Rehkow’s teams play defense first, last and always.

That’s how they posted an 81-0 record over the last three seasons.

His two best players? Lacie and Lexie Hull? The twins who take their game to Stanford next year? They each left everything on the floor night after night, selling out completely to support that defense-first team attitude.

Stepping on the area carousel for this next time around is one the best point guards the college game has ever seen.

Washington State tabbed Hall of Famer Kamie Ethridge to be its women’s basketball coach, a move that has some interesting Palouse ties.

Ethridge was an exceptional player – you have to be to get inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, which she was in 2002. But there’s more. She was awarded the Wade Trophy and the Honda Broderick Cup, awarded the top female athlete in the country in 1986, and she earned the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Player of the Year that same year – an honor reserved to the nation’s top senior collegiate player under 5-foot-6 (Ethridge stands in at 5-5, making her a standard-bearer for the vertically challenged).

There’s an Olympic gold medal on her resume and she is the newly-crowned Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year.

Those are all details.

Mary Camille Ethridge was a ball of fire on the basketball court, and I suspect that same fire burns as she sits on the sidelines as a head coach. There was a Texas state Class 5A championship during her high school days in Lubbock. And she led the University of Texas to the first undefeated, 34-0 national championship season under legendary coach Jody Conradt.

That Longhorns team? The one that beat Cheryl Miller and USC in the championship game? That team featured fellow Hall of Famer Clarissa Davis and Moscow High School legend Andrea Lloyd.

Me? I tuned in to watch Lloyd but wound up being impressed by her little point guard. I look forward to being impressed all over again.

As coaches climb aboard the carousel, others step off.

Whitworth’s remarkably tall Helen Higgs, who played college basketball at the University of Oregon, announced that she is stepping down after 24 seasons leading the Pirates. A three-time Northwest Conference Coach of the Year, Higgs steps down as the winningest women’s coach in school history and easily the most personable.

Rick Sloan’s announcement that he is stepping down as Central Valley’s head boys basketball coach after 22 seasons was not a surprise. But the Bears’ bench will never look the same again.

I remember Rick Sloan as a likeable Central Valley quarterback and later rooted for him when he stepped in for Idaho starter Scott Linehan, on a suspect knee no less, to lead the Vandals to a 9-3 record and the Division I-AA playoffs, where they lost to Eastern Washington.

As a coach, he was easily a favorite. Where some coaches rankle at talking about their chosen sport, or sports, with sports writers, Rick welcomed any chance to talk ball.

But that’s not what he was all about as an offensive coordinator or as a basketball coach.

Rick Sloan crafted winning basketball teams, yes. Five of them won Greater Spokane League titles and five played in the state tournament – two finished their season in the state championship game.

But he didn’t win 63-percent of the games he coached because he was devoted to finding just the right X-and-0 diagram at just the right time.

He won all those games because he was devoted to molding quality young men. He was a mentor. Players who came into the Central Valley program invariably came out of it better students, better young men and, well, better people.

I made it a point to always drop by CV the first week of the season to watch the coach put his new squad through its paces. Where many coaches get caught up in the whole evaluation process, preparing to pare down the turnout practices into a set of rosters, Rick was always the calm in the middle of the storm. He always found time to spend just a few minutes leaning against the wall, chatting about life, the basketball universe and everything.

Want to know how to sum up Rick Sloan as a person?

He married his high school sweetheart, Nanci. Dropping into coach-speak, he refers to her as “a five-tool wife” and he credits her with his coaching longevity.

Those of us who have found a better partner than we otherwise deserve, know it. I like to call it “marrying up.”

“I outkicked my coverage,” Rick says.

I’m going to miss that.

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