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Women’s NCAA Tournament: Spokane products continue to reach the Final Four

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt instructs Angie Bjorklund during practice before the NCAA Tournament Final Four  on April 5, 2008, in Tampa, Fla. (Gerry Broome / AP)
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt instructs Angie Bjorklund during practice before the NCAA Tournament Final Four on April 5, 2008, in Tampa, Fla. (Gerry Broome / AP)

Oregon senior forward Oti Gildon is the rare Spokane product to reach the NCAA women’s Final Four, which begins Friday when the No. 2-seeded Ducks face top-seeded Baylor in Tampa, Florida.

But she’s certainly not the first.

Kari Hutchinson (now Kari Mueller), a former St. George’s phenom who went on to Notre Dame, reached the Final Four in 1997.

Mueller – a 6-foot guard who averaged about 18 minutes a game – and the Fighting Irish lost to eventual national champion Tennessee, which won the fifth of its eight titles under the late Pat Summitt.

“It was big-time, getting escorted by police motorcycles through the streets of Cincinnati,” Mueller, a Boise resident, recalled in a 2008 interview with The Spokesman-Review. “The commotion around the whole event, it happened so fast. It was kind of surreal being there.”

A decade later, Tennessee had a young, crafty guard from Spokane on its national championship team.

Former University High star Angie Bjorklund was a freshman in 2008 when the Volunteers won the national title. She averaged 8.4 points that season and started 30 games.

“Winning a national championship is something you hang on to forever,” said Bjorklund, currently playing professionally in France.

Bjorklund’s Vols defeated Stanford 64-48 in the 2008 national title game, a decade after Stanford went to the Final Four with a former Mead star on its roster.

Regan Freuen Drew experienced three straight Final Fours (1995-97) at Stanford, but was on the bench in the 1997 semifinal due to a medical redshirt. She still lives in Spokane.

Earlier this week, two more Stanford products from the Spokane area – freshman guards Lexie and Lacie Hull from Central Valley – came up a game short of the Final Four, falling to 84-68 to Notre Dame in the Elite Eight.

In 2007, an Arizona State team led by Spokane-area talent also came up a game short of the Final Four. Emily Westerberg and Reagan Pariseau (Central Valley), Briann January (Lewis and Clark) and Aubree Johnson (Post Falls) fell to eventual national runner-up Rutgers in the Elite Eight.

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