Looking down the list of boys State 2B champions you notice one thing in common over the past nine years: Seven of the winners are schools that currently compete in the Northeast district.
Five of those are Northwest Christian, of course, but last year it was Colfax and not all that long ago Republic – a 1B school now – hoisted the gold ball. When this year’s tournament play begins at 9 this morning at the Arena, exactly half the eight teams will be from the Northeast 2B.
When this year’s tournament play begins at 9 this morning at the Arena, exactly half the eight teams will be from the Northeast 2B.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said Ray Ricks, who has coached Northwest Christian to its five most recent titles. “Some years, maybe, but this year I thought we had four legitimate, solid teams … that were a little clear-cut above.”
Leading the pack is St. George’s, 26-1 and atop the 2B rankings most of the season. The Dragons’ only defeat came by one point to 2A state participant Pullman in a Christmas tournament.
But Colfax, which finished second in league behind the play of Montana-bound Brandon Gfeller, NWC and Lind-Ritzville/Sprague all can be considered championship contenders despite having seven to 10 losses each.
“St. George’s has been a great team this year,” said Colfax coach Reece Jenkin, who grew up in Reardan – a Northeast 2B school these days – and led the Bulldogs to their first B crown since 1947 last year (they won 1A titles in 1978 and 1979).
“You look at the record for the rest of us, all of us lost six, seven, eight games,” he continued. “Well, all those games, for the most part, have been to each other.”
“You keep getting beat by the same teams,” Ricks agreed. “I think what it’s done is it’s made everybody better. We went into these sub-regional and regional games … and beat No. 1s, pretty handily, by 15, 20 points. I think the league is legit.”
But what explains the recent run of dominance and this year’s success?
“You never know what the other side of the state, the other districts bring, but I know going into our league, every game is a battle. There is great parity,” said St. George’s coach Ryan Peplinski, who will enter today’s first-round game against Morton-White Pass without starting senior guard Mark Kenney, who suffered a concussion taking a charge last weekend.
“We just play in a real competitive league with a lot of good teams,” Jenkin added. “Over the course of the season, when you play against that level of competition, you have no choice but to improve if you want to get to that next level.”
Still, identifying the key to success is not easy.
“I’m not 100 percent sure,” Ricks admitted. “We obviously have a tough league. Because the bar has been raised pretty high, it’s raised the competition level across the board.”
It’s Ricks’ Crusaders, with their four consecutive crowns and five in six years, that raised the bar the highest. And that might just explain this year’s so-far dominating showing.
“A big part of it is just the competition in the league, making everybody improve and get better,” Jenkin said, “because they want to have the opportunity to get to state and be successful.”