You know it’s a tough league when the defending champion enters the state tournament as the No. 5 seed and isn’t the highest-ranked team.
For the last four seasons, Central Valley has been the measuring stick not only for Greater Spokane League girls programs, but for the entire state.
The Bears have two state titles in the past three years with a semifinal loss in 2017 as the only blemish against their record in the three years.
But CV sent the Hull twins – Lexie and Lacie – to No. 7 Stanford, and Hailey Christopher is coming off the bench at Idaho.
And national girls coach of the year Freddie Rehkow retired to spend more time with family.
All that would be enough to devastate a program, but not at CV.
The cupboard is far from empty – the six seniors on the squad have been part of those state-title winners during their time in the program.
They bring that confidence with them whenever they take the floor, including on Saturday when the Bears (21-3) pulled away in the second half to beat fifth-seeded Glacier Peak 59-44 in a state regional game.
Senior Tomekia Whitman scored 18 points with nine boards while sophomore MJ Bruno had 12 off the bench for coach Ryan Bragdon.
CV went 23 of 29 at the free-throw line as the Bears’ ferocious defense and precision offense forced three Grizzlies to foul out.
“No pressure,” first-year coach Bragdon said. “And for this senior class it’s kind of routine for them, which is a good situation to be in.”
“We’ve been working on our defense all season and that’s what we always focus on,” Whitman said. “When we do well on defense, it leads to good offense.”
Whitman, a first-team, all-league selection, averages 13.8 points, and second-teamer Camryn Skaife (11.4 ppg) is the outside threat.
Combo guard Mady Simmelink (8.3 ppg, second-team All-GSL) started on last year’s title team.
“We heard a lot of talk over the summer about how good we were last year and how we weren’t going to be as good this year, how we were going to struggle,” Simmelink said earlier this season. “To be honest, winning again this year is a little sweeter just because no one expected us to do it.”
The Bears have three losses: two to No. 4 seed Lewis and Clark and one to Mt. Spokane, the No. 2 seed in 3A.
That’s a rough league schedule.
The Tigers and Wildcats have been champing at the bit to exact some payback on CV. They both took advantage when they had the opportunity this season.
LC coach Gabe Medrano said they weren’t worried about CV’s various streaks, they were just trying to find a way to win.
“We were just thinking about beating CV because they are always good,” he said.
“It feels good,” LC senior Dominique Arquette said at the time. “Really good.”
The Tigers are led by GSL MVP Jacinta Buckley, who’s bound for UNLV next season. The 6-foot, “do-everything” swing player averages 16.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, nearly three assists and 2.3 steals per game.
Arquette was a second-team selection who averages just more than 10 points. All-league honorable mention seniors Baylee Bishop (8.8 ppg), 6-foot-3 post Anna Reeves (7.1 ppg) and sophomore point guard Andie Zylak (6.6 ppg) all fill key roles.
“This team has really come together as a group and are playing some of their best basketball right now, especially on the defensive end,” Medrano said. “They trust their teammates and know that they have each other’s backs and will do whatever it takes to help the team win.”
Mt. Spokane had similar feelings when it topped the Bears 64-53 in a nonleague game on Jan. 2.
“I’m so happy to finally beat them,” Mt. Spokane all-league senior Aspyn Adams said. “Fourth year, senior year, it’s about time. (CV) played a great game and I’m super proud of our team.”
Mt. Spokane coach David Pratt is excited to see what his team can do at state this year. The Wildcats entered the tourney on a roll last year but fell in a first-round game and had to turn right back around.
“Our team has had a great year. It’s a hard-working group that loves to compete, is loaded with great leaders and leadership, has a great blend of kids who love being together,” Pratt said.