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Young Eagles have risen to the challenge

When the basketball season began, West Valley girls coach Lorin Carlon said he believes only one team member was old enough to hold a driver’s license.

“We have three more now,” he said, “but they can’t haul anybody around.”

No matter. The Eagles, their roster filled mainly by sophomores, will be chauffered to Yakima this week for the State 2A tournament.

Last week they belied their youth with victories in Clarkston, 55-46, and at Eastern Washington University against unbeaten league champion Pullman, 52-49, to win the District 7 championship.

Seasoned veterans Shaniqua Nilles (39 points) and Hannah Love (26), both sophomores, led the way. WV’s grizzled veteran in the lineup is junior Nicole Lawless, the team’s third leading scorer.

“We’ve had some ups and downs,” said Carlon. “But we’re getting older.”

Over three years and in their eighth attempt, WV finally beat Pullman. The Eagles lost in overtime in the second meeting in the regular season and confidence carried over in the district title win.

“The girls felt they could play with them,” said Carlon, who added the secret was being able to handle relentless Greyhounds pressure.

Beating Clarkston in a difficult venue also was huge.

“We had not played well against them either time this year,” he said.

State veterans Love, the team leader in league scoring at 17.8 points per game, and Nilles (13.4) were the constants. The rest have caught up.

“They realize this is serious business,” he said. “I knew they had potential. What they have done is matured mentally.”

Like the Eagles last year, their Wednesday foe, Burlington-Edison was 1-2 and eliminated at state. The Tigers (16-7) are tall, including 6-foot-1 Brenna Anderson (12.3 ppg) and 6-2 Sarah Stewart (11.0), both juniors. Sophomore guard Kristin Thoe averages 12.0.

“Sometimes young kids don’t know they’re supposed to lose,” said Carlon. “They’ve gone past my expectations and are playing maybe as good as we can play right now.”

Maybe for the best

Both head coaches concurred that Rogers’ boys victory over Shadle Park may have been the best thing to happen for the Greater Spokane League, which qualified two teams to the State 3A tournament in Tacoma.

The Highlanders, a state qualifier the year before, were more likely to be able to come back from a loss in the regional final than the Pirates, more than 30 years removed from their last state trip.

Rogers coach Tim Wood said for that reason, emphasis was put on beating Shadle.

“It was a big concern if we lost how we would recover,” Wood said. “Shadle was probably more suited on 24 hours notice to come back. We hadn’t beaten Shadle in the five years I’ve been here. We put it on the line right there.”

“Give credit where credit is due. Tim did a good job,” said Shadle coach Tim Gaebe. “He and (activities coordinator) Eric Anderson come from a decent pedigree. Both are Shadle Park guys and good for them. It was quite an ordeal our kids went through. I’m really proud of them.”

Rogers beat Shadle 61-55 to qualify for state. The Highlanders bounced back fewer than 20 hours later to oust West Valley-Yakima 56-52.

How close they came

Gonzaga Prep was not far from playing in the boys finals in the State 4A tournament.

The Bullpups lost by four points in overtime to Garfield, which went on to the championship contest and stuck with champion Federal Way for a half. With a call or two, Prep could have been there.

“We were very close and would love to play them again,” said coach Mike Haugen. “You don’t overlook Foss (which lost to Garfield in the semifinals) , but we would have had a pretty good chance.”

On any given day

Nothing much separated the top three finishers in the girls State 1A tournament in Yakima.

Third-place Freeman suffered its only loss of the year to Seattle Christian in the semifinals, 43-42, on two free throws with time expired. Seattle Christian won the title 55-53 over Granger, a team the Scotties beat during the regular season.

All-tournament teams

Gonzaga Prep’s Ryan Nicholas and Lewis and Clark’s Jeneva Anderson were second-team 4Aall-tournament selections. Megan McIntyre was first team for Freeman at the 1A in Yakima.