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East Valley girls still in lead: No. 1-ranked Knights chasing district 2A title

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 31, 2018

East Valley sophomore Brie Holecek, left, practices with the team on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. East Valley is ranked No. 1 in the state in 2A according to RPI. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
East Valley sophomore Brie Holecek, left, practices with the team on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. East Valley is ranked No. 1 in the state in 2A according to RPI. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Perhaps there’s something especially nurturing about Sullivan Road itself. Or maybe it’s the proximity to drive-through doughnuts, drive-through Chinese food and multiple sets of Golden Arches.

But no matter the reason, that Valley thoroughfare is home to two No. 1-ranked girls basketball teams.

To the south end, there is Central Valley, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 4A. And to the north – north of the Spokane River and tucked away past the Industrial Park and past Trent Avenue sits East Valley, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 2A, according to the state’s RPI system.

The Knights will take the court Friday night in Pullman for their regular season finale and in search of an 18-1 season record. They’ve already clinched the regular season title, holding a two-game lead on second-place Clarkston.

The strength-of-schedule measure the state uses had three Great Northern League teams ranked in the top 10 as late as last week, with Clarkston and West Valley joining the Knights. In this week’s rankings, Clarkston has fallen to No. 11, WV is No. 21 and Cheney comes in at No. 26. Pullman, the league’s lowest-ranked team, still cracks the top 50 teams.

The Rating Percentage Index weighs a team’s winning percentage (25 percent), the winning percentage of its opponents (50 percent) and the winning percentage of its opponents’ opponents (25 percent). That number is then used to seed teams into district and state pairings.

It’s not quite the same as other, more traditional ranking formulas used by newspapers and the Associated Press. For example, the Tacoma News Tribune, which ranks teams in each classification, has East Valley ranked No. 3 behind top ranked W.F. West (14-2) and Archbishop Murphey (16-0).

But it definitely points out the tough road that runs through Eastern Washington all the way to the Great Northern League regular season title.

“This is a tough league, and I think the RPI showed that,” East Valley coach Rob Collins said. “I thought that after we lost that one game, at Clarkston, that we would be knocked out of the No. 1 spot. But we weren’t.

“Clarkston is really good. West Valley is improved, Cheney is tough, and Pullman is getting better all the time.”

In the GNL, teams lace their sneakers up good and tight and get after it on defense. With East Valley setting the standard.

Junior Genesis Wilkinson is the team’s prime offensive and defensive weapon in the low post, where she is fully capable of taking over a game – as she did in the rematch with Clarkston, which EV won 52-47 victory.

Sophomore Brie Holecek is in her second season as a key offensive contributor.

After Friday’s finale, the Knights will have more than a week off. The regular-season title brings with it a bye directly into the district tournament championship game.

“Having that kind of time off is tough because you still want to maintain your competitive edge but at the same time you don’t want to get anyone hurt,” Collins said. “Thankfully, we’ve gotten used to it over the last few years.”

That’s the thing about East Valley and being among the state’s top-ranked teams. They haven’t been far out of that spot over the last few years.

Hannah Burland, Jordan Phelan and the Bastin twins, Maddie and Skylar, powered East Valley to back-to-back-to-back state tournament trophies, including a third-place finish in 2016. After those four graduated, with Burland and Phelan both heading to Lewis-Clark State where the former plays basketball and the latter volleyball, Elle Burland, Hannah’s cousin and the fifth starter from those state teams, led the Knights right back to the state tournament, losing in the first round.

“People thought we were going to fall off after we graduated Hannah, Jordan and the twins,” Collins said. “Then they thought we were going to fall off when we graduated Elle. The truth is we have a good core group of kids, and they’re playing pretty well. We’ve had different kids step up when other kids haven’t had their A game. We’ve had as many as four girls score in double figures, and there have been a few times when two of our post players, not our primary posts, have stepped up and combined for 30 points and 18 rebounds.”

Collins credits the quality of play his incoming freshman have under their collective belts. Some of that is from the middle school program, but more important, he credits their experience playing high-level AAU basketball, especially over the summers.

“I think it’s important for our players to get the chance to play for other coaches,” Collins insists.

Once they get to East Valley?

“My leaders do a really nice job of leading,” Collins said. “A lot of it comes from them, making sure they carry on the program.

“That’s something I do differently. I pick the captains every year, I don’t let them vote on who’s going to be a captain. Last year Elle was my team captain. This year, I have two seniors, and they are our captains, Syd Moore and Emily Fletcher.”

Another key to the program’s consistency, Collins said, is its flexibility.

“We don’t always do the same thing every year,” he said. “We always have the same philosophy and the same thoughts on things. But I look at our kids and do what’s best for the kids we have at that time. We don’t change a lot, but we change a little. We make small adjustments.

“But even with that, we do what we believe in, and we try to do it better than everybody else.”

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