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Sports >  High school sports

‘There was a culture there’: Lewis and Clark girls dominated the mid- to late-2000s behind superstars Briann January, Katy Baker and Heather Bowman

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 4, 2021

By Vince Grippi For The Spokesman-Review

As thoroughly as the Greater Spokane League has dominated large-school girls basketball in Washington, no one else has done what Lewis and Clark High did in the early part of this century.

Heck, no one else has done what the Tigers did between 2006 and 2008. Not just among the girls, but the boys as well. No other school has won state titles in the largest classification three consecutive years.

So how did LC make its way through the toughest gantlet in the state and emerge victorious three times in a row (and four in six years)?

“It was all luck,” professes then-Lewis and Clark girls coach Jim Redmon, succinctly.

Redmon, who now coaches the Tigers’ boys team, swears he isn’t just displaying false humility. Like everything connected to basketball, he has a reason to buttress his position.

“I always feel at (state) you’ve got to have some luck,” he said. “Things got to go your way. Balls got to bounce your way at some point.”

Sounds reasonable. Except his former players don’t buy it.

“Jim is always the first to shake off any credit,” said Heather Bowman, who played on the first of those title teams before going on to star at Gonzaga University, “but there was a culture there. I remember when I came in as a freshman – at the time I was the only freshman that was fully on varsity – Bri January is my point guard, Katy Baker is there. There is this really great group that is really close.

“They were so competitive. And they had the sense of understanding the assignment. We want to win.”

Brittany Kennedy, who played on all three consecutive title teams, agrees.

“Jim is that common denominator,” said Kennedy, who played at Oregon State and Florida Gulf Coast and is now helping out at Lewis and Clark. “It’s tough to get to state. It’s tough to get to the title game. And, as our leader, he helped us. He can say luck, but I’ll say it’s more just the hard work and his dedication toward making us better, pushing us. We bought into his leadership.”

Bowman agrees and offers an explanation why.

“Jim was a servant leader,” she said. “There were things he didn’t budge on, but he was incredibly kind. He knew we would do best if we were having fun.

“He also let the leaders lead. He didn’t want to be that intense voice in the middle all the time. He wanted to support us.”

Seems reasonable. Especially considering quite possibly the best player to come out of Spokane, 12-year WNBA veteran Briann January, agrees. And she didn’t even play on any of the Tigers’ state title teams.

“Jim put in place the foundation and the culture to be successful,” said January, who won a WNBA title with Indiana in 2012.

There are other reasons, of course. There has to be. A school doesn’t go 82-7 over three seasons, win every state title, all the while battling in a league that was the state’s best and featured another of the best players – University’s Angie Bjorklund – in the area’s history based on luck and coaching acumen. If so, others would do it.

And no one has.

A big part of it was the talent that flowed through Lewis and Clark in that stretch. Another is the culture fostered on Fourth Avenue. A culture built around defense. As epitomized by the best Tiger of them all, January.

“Bri set that culture of just working hard,” said Kennedy, who was a freshman during January’s senior season of 2005. “She was somebody who demanded that excellence at practice. She was able to set that tone for Jim as the floor leader offensively, but also defensively.

“Playing with her sister, Kiki, growing up in AAU, Briann was someone that you looked to. That older sister who just got it done. She not only demanded excellence from you but also from herself.”

January, whose LC teams lost to the eventual titlists in 2004 and 2005, felt the defensive culture was in place long before she got there. But she was glad to be able to help add to the foundation.

“That’s what we prided ourselves on,” she said. “We were going to make it difficult for any team that stepped on the court with us, from tipoff to buzzer. They were going to feel us the entire length of the court.

“I wish we could have won. I know we had a team worthy of winning a championship,” January added, reflecting on the near misses. “At the same time, I appreciate we grew that program in the four years I was there. To see how the program continued to be successful after I left, I do take pride in that. That’s kind of good as winning a championship because Lewis and Clark has a legacy now.”

There is no other player who had a bigger part in cementing it, according to Bowman.

“I walked in and I looked up to her immediately,” she said of January. “She set the tone. And it’s not like she would set it by running around and yelling. That’s not her style.

“She would just compete and pull you in. She made it clear that this is what we need from you.”

That defensive pressure shined in the Tigers’ first state title win, a 66-44 shellacking of Vancouver-area power Prairie. That victory came one day less than three years after the Falcons had welcomed January and the Tigers to state play with a 62-42 rout in 2003.

“You remember a loss like that,” said Bowman, who was not surprised when apprised Lewis and Clark never lost a state tournament game against the Falcons after that. “When you take a beating at state years ago and now we’re back and we’ve got a chance to win, it gives you that edge. When you are trying to compete, you take whatever edge you can get.”

It was Kennedy and senior Ren Mallory who supplied the pressure against Prairie in 2006 and that took pressure off Bowman, Katelan Redmon, Hannah Rothstrom and the rest of the Tigers who got to hoist the school’s first girls championship trophy.

That first one seemed to propel the second, which culminated in a 39-34 nailbiter against U-Hi and Bjorkland, the fifth time the teams had met that season. That title game seemed to epitomize the excellence that is Greater Spokane League girls basketball.

“From a really young age, playing against great players like that, we got competitive,” said Bowman, who was at Gonzaga by then. “You are out there playing and you’re not thinking, ‘I’m really good.’ It’s, ‘Bri’s really good’ or ‘Angie’s really good.’ You want to beat them.

“You want to measure up. And they are doing the same thing. It’s a big part of (the Spokane basketball) culture.”

The next year, the Tigers were led by Kennedy and Kiki January, Briann’s sister who owns family bragging rights after her state titles. With Baker carrying the load inside, LC finished off an undefeated season and the unprecedented triple.

“They all have a special meaning,” Kennedy said, “but the last one, that was a year no one expected us to go as far as we did. Everyone was like, ‘They lost Heather, they lost Katelan, they’re not going to be able to get back.’

“We didn’t have a dominant offensive player, we had a handful of us getting points and doing what we needed to do to win. That one was tougher.”

That title was followed by a two-year lull. But the Tigers rebuilt the roster, rode senior Hayley Hendricksen, who went on to play at Saint Mary’s, and juniors Devyn Galland and Nakia Arquette to survive three close games en route to the school’s fourth title in 2011.

“It came down to a couple plays,” Redmon said, recalling how close the Tigers were to being eliminated more than once.

“Again, that’s why I still say you’ve got to have something that falls your way. I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s great players or it’s coaching or it’s luck, but I’m telling you, it’s something.”

When you win four titles in six years, maybe it is a whole lot of somethings.

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