Sometimes the big game comes along in the middle of a long stretch and sometimes it comes just when a team needs to turn a corner.
This year’s Golden Throne spirit game between West Valley and East Valley came at the intersection between hard work and future promise.
The last couple of seasons have been tough for East Valley boys basketball. When this year’s seniors were sophomores, they finished 3-17. Last year, the program went in a different direction, hiring Scottsdale, Arizona, transplant Jeremy Knee to coach.
With a dedication to building fundamental basketball skills, Knee and the Knights were a growing team a year ago despite a 2-19 record and 15 straight losses to end the season.
There was progress in those losses.
Now 19 months into the program, the Knights are finding dividends to all the hard work, winning six of their last eight games. Friday night they knocked off West Valley, 57-54, to win their half of the Golden Throne games, their second straight win over the archrival Eagles.
“Any program, no matter if it’s a sports team or a management crew in business, you have to have a solid foundation,” Knee said. “Last year it felt like we were still working with wet concrete a little bit. Some of our seniors last year were wholly unprepared for what they should have been taught in seventh- and eighth-grade. Little things like executing a pivot or stepping into passes. This year there are still some lingering fundamental things we’re working on.
“But the kids are buying in.”
Tyrell Brown scored 22 points and Taylor Hofstee added another dozen against the Eagles.
“We end up with a different kid leading us in scoring just about every night,” Knee said. “Tyrell has settled into his role as our leading scorer, but he’s at about 11 points per game. We have a whole bunch of kids at six, seven, eight points per game.”
East Valley lost its first five games in December, but it broke into the win column with a 70-57 win over Timberlake, then followed that up by holding West Valley to its fewest total points in a game in recent memory – posting a 41-27 victory on the Eagles home court.
“We were 0-12 in league last year, so getting that first league win was big for our kids,” Knee said. “We work hard in practice every day. We don’t take a day off – we can’t. We’ve established a culture here where we come in and we work hard every day. Now, to be winning on the court, that takes it to the next level.”
East Valley won three straight games before taking a tough loss to Sandpoint, but it bounced back to edge North Central. After winning the spirit game Friday, the Knights were 3-2 in league, tied with Pullman behind league-leading Clarkston.
Rick Jones knew his West Valley Eagles girls squad was going to be pretty good. They were good (12-10) last year and most of the squad was back.
But in past seasons, being good wasn’t good enough against East Valley. The last time the Eagles had knocked off the Knights was in the 2012-13 season.
“We would play them hard and we would have our chances, but they always found a way to win it at the end against us,” Jones said. “This year there are finally some new faces on their side and we were able to find a way.”
Hailey Marlow scored 19 points and capped her night by scoring the game-winning basket with 10 seconds left to earn a 52-50 victory – their second over EV this season and first on the Knights home floor.
Jones was an assistant under both Jamie Nilles and Jay Humphrey since 2001 at West Valley, but he is now in his third season coaching the Eagles. The team posted a 10-1 start to their season with Marlow’s late basket.
“We’ve had some good battles with them, but we had just never found a way to break through,” he said. “It was good for us to finally figure out ‘Hey, we can beat these guys.’ Friday night’s game was a player’s game with a lot of ups and downs. We haven’t had that many close games at this point, so it was really good for us to have a close game and to find a way to win.”
Jones said he gave his squad the Saturday off after the win – a reward the team greatly appreciated.
“When we play a game, my girls give me everything they have,” he said. “I’m just trying to be conscientious and give them a day off so they can rest up and heal up a little. I don’t want them to wear down at the end of the year or get injured.”
Steve Christilaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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