Caelyn Orlandi thought she was just going along for the ride when, as a freshman, she accompanied the Coeur d’Alene girls basketball team to the state tournament.
She had no reason to think otherwise. After all, she split time in the regular season between the varsity and junior varsity, seeing little time with the older players.
Opportunity, though, presented itself at state, and Orlandi knocked down the door.
Vikings coach Dale Poffenroth started Orlandi in the second half of the state title game against Lewiston and the rookie responded like a seasoned veteran.
She scored 13 points, 11 coming in the fourth quarter, as the Viks rallied for a 51-45 decision.
“She’s the reason we won the state championship,” Poffenroth said. “Normally it’s tough for a freshman to crack the lineup. In her case, there were too many older and better kids ahead of her. She had to wait her time.”
CdA was back in the state final Orlandi’s sophomore year, her first as a starter, in a repeat showdown against Lewiston. But Lewiston got a measure of revenge.
Then last year, the Vikings were upset in the semifinals by Centennial.
The way Orlandi sees it, she should have three state titles, going for a fourth.
She’s determined to not only get back to the state final but earn a second title.
It could be more difficult than it was her freshman year. As usual, the stiffest competition in the state should come from the 5A Inland Empire League. Eight miles to the west – Post Falls – looms the Viks’ biggest obstacle.
Orlandi is good friends with four of Post Falls’ starters – Dani Failor, Katie King, Brooke Litalien and Hallie Gennett. They played together last summer on the Spokane Stars elite team. Her connection with King, Litalien and Failor goes back to AAU in middle school.
The Viks (6-3) watched Post Falls (9-0) easily dispatch of two-time state champ Lewiston last month 65-32. On Tuesday, CdA fell 43-41 in overtime at Lewiston.
CdA and Post Falls face off twice next month. And probably again at regionals. And most likely a fourth time at state.
“Post Falls is very good,” Orlandi said. “I think it’ll be a good matchup.”
The 5-foot-8 point guard is averaging 10.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.3 steals per game.
Orlandi was tagged with the nickname “Goose” when she was playing pitching-machine softball in the third grade.
“Our coach gave all of us animal nicknames,” she said. “It was a joke at first but mine didn’t fade away.”
It didn’t help matters that Orlandi put Goose down as her first name on homework.
The nickname followed her to high school, where most of her teachers call her Goose. Even her parents use the moniker half the time.
Orlandi has gone from an athlete who thought the road to a college education would come through soccer to making herself into a college-bound point guard.
“She’s an (NCAA) Division I player,” Poffenroth said.
Her AAU coach, Ron Adams, agreed.
“She’s one of the best on-ball defenders I’ve coached in 33 years,” Adams said. “It’s tough to get the ball to anybody she’s checking.”
She visited the University of Montana in September but wasn’t offered a scholarship.
“It was disappointing,” Orlandi said. “I thought Montana was a good fit.”
Said Adams: “Goose is better than a lot of guards in the (West Coast Conference) and Big Sky right now.”
Orlandi, an honors student with a weighted 4.086 grade-point average, isn’t concerned.
“I’m not stuck on having to play Division I,” she said. “I want to go somewhere I can play. I want to play and get an education and not have to pay for all of it.”
Her coaches are sure the opportunity will come.
“With Goose, it’s like having a second coach on the floor,” Poffenroth said. “She has an analytical thinking process.”
“She picks up what defense the other team is in before anybody else does,” Adams said.
Orlandi is also an organizational freak.
“In my closet my shirts are coordinated by color,” she said, “and my binders for school are color coordinated.”
She doesn’t mind the teasing that comes as a result of it.
On the court, Orlandi is focused on one thing – getting CdA back to the title game.
It wouldn’t surprise Orlandi if the state final is an all-IEL showdown again. She just hopes it includes the Viks.
“I think we should win a state title,” she said. “You’re not given things you have to work for it. Two of the best teams, maybe three, are up here.”