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Area athletes rose to occasion at state

Another winter sports season has come and gone and, as usual, Eastern Washington and North Idaho were well represented at various state tournaments.

Allow me a few moments to reflect on some of the feats by area teams.

I’ll start with the Mead girls. The Panthers were a turnover away in the final 12 seconds, as coach Quantae Anderson has pointed out, from being undefeated.

The 44-43 loss to University on Dec. 18 only made Mead better in the long run. It showed the Panthers they were beatable. From that point on, they didn’t take anything for granted.

Mead finished on a 19-game winning streak, concluding with a convincing 58-42 win over Arlington in the State 4A championship game.

The Panthers took off following the loss to U-Hi. They had a close call in the regional final against Chiawana, pulling out the win in overtime. And they had another nailbiter in the state semifinal, stopping Mount Rainier 51-50.

Those were games Mead could have lost. But this was a team that never played with any sense of panic.

Against Mount Rainier, the game came down to a superstar player against a team. Junior Brittany McPhee of Mount Rainier tried to will her team to victory, scoring 34 points. But Mead’s balance – Mead ’s team – was better overall than Mount Rainier.

The Panthers will graduate three key parts – point guard Jade Redmon, post Mackenzie McPhee and reserve guard Morgan Douglass.

Those are big shoes to fill. But the Panthers will return juniors Ashlyn Lewey and Delany Junkermier and sophomore Sue Winger, all starters. Each had their moments throughout the season when they led the team.

Throw in a mixture of other reserves and newcomers from the junior varsity and Mead will be capable of defending its title.

• The Panthers’ toughest test, as always, will come from their own league. Consider Gonzaga Prep. The Bullpups could have been playing Mead in the state final had it not been for a hideous shooting effort in the state opener.

G-Prep finished 24-4. The Bullpups beat everybody they played save three setbacks to Mead and the Tacoma opener against Arlington.

The Bullpups, most of whom play on the same elite club team, return four of five starters. They could make a serious run at a state title next year.

• Post Falls (24-1) won its first 15 games and finished on a nine-game winning streak to capture the 5A State title.

The Trojans didn’t necessarily play their best ball at state, having to eke out a 42-41 win in the semifinals and go to overtime to top Coeur d’Alene in the final.

But Post Falls played well enough to win. The Trojans did it with four seniors among their five starters.

The state title means that all four 5A Inland Empire League teams have claimed state titles since 2006. The IEL has owned the state since then.

• Reardan (26-1) made it three straight 2B championships, and the Indians, who won their final 24 games, proved they were more than a one-girl team. An argument could be made that Kelsey Moos is the best player in the state regardless of classification.

• The machine keeps rolling at Colton (25-1). Coach Clark Vining’s crew took home a fifth consecutive State 1B title. And the cupboard doesn’t appear dry.

• In boys, Pullman (27-1) wasn’t even in the state conversation at the start of the season even though it returned talented Corey Langerveld. Heck, Greyhounds coach Craig Brantner figured it would be difficult to survive the Great Northern League. With just two starters back, Brantner didn’t pick his team to win the league title.

The Greyhounds, who lost their season opener 57-51 at Ellensburg, got things rolling and never slowed down, capturing a State 2A title.

• St. George’s (28-1) dominated from the outset and survived some late-season challenges to keep the recent string of championships for the Northeast 2B alive. The Dragons’ lone loss was a one-point setback to Pullman.

• I’ll conclude with a nod to wrestling, specifically to University.

The Titans captured their third state title under coach Don Owen, their first in 3A.

U-Hi graduates some talent, but returns some talent as well to go with a crew of Titans who will be hungry to step up and prove it’s their turn.