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Central Valley’s Mady Simmelink embraces new role as leader

To fully appreciate Mady Simmelink, you must watch her over the course of a game. Or two. Maybe even a full season.

If you try to size her up based solely on first impressions, you’ll miss out on the depth and breadth of what she brings to whatever game she’s playing. And you’ll definitely miss out on just how tough and determined she truly is. Her game defies assumption.

A lean 5-foot-7, Simmelink’s No. 1 basketball jersey fits her. It’s not that there isn’t room for a second numeral, but the single digit works for her. Why crowd things?

“She is a little quiet and reserved and that’s how she plays,” Central Valley girls basketball coach Ryan Bragdon said. “She’s not going to be the loudest player on the floor, but she does a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff. But she can definitely fill up a box score.”

Soccer fans saw how tough Simmelink is as a freshman defender.

Looking tiny next to players twice her size, an observer wondered aloud about her safety.

“Just watch,” then-coach Andres Monrroy said.

Sure enough, a muscular forward charged into the CV defensive zone and challenged Simmelink, who made a none-too-gentle tackle, took the ball away and started a counterattack.

Monrroy just grinned.

“I have a family that loves to play sports, and I have a brother who was really great at baseball and hockey,” Simmelink said. “For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be just like my brothers. They worked really hard at it, and they taught me to be the same way.

“I’m not the biggest or the strongest player. But I have a competitive mentality. I work hard and I love to compete. I compete hard at everything.”

The appreciation runs deep at CV after watching her through four regular seasons in both soccer and basketball.

She helped CV to place as state soccer twice, including an appearance in the state title game in 2017.

In basketball she’s helped her team win four straight Greater Spokane League championships, two state titles and last year’s GEICO National title in New York.

Central Valley (18-2, 13-1) locked down the league title and top seed to the district playoffs last week. Simmelink and teammate Camryn Skaife are likely the first to have played on four straight GSL championship girls basketball teams.

This has been a year of changes for Simmelink.

In the fall, the Bears adjusted to new soccer coach Rob Rowe after Monrroy stepped down. CV responded by earning a third-place state finish.

Simmelink missed the first couple weeks of basketball practice while the soccer team played at state, and by the time she got to the court, the wear and tear of the fall season had taken its toll.

“I was pretty sore and my body was not happy that I was trying to go straight from soccer to basketball,” she said. “My legs were covered with bruises and my hamstring was really sore.

“On top of that, it was definitely an adjustment when I got here. We had new coaches and they had a new way of doing things. But I think it was good for us because we all came in with a clean slate and we could learn a new way of doing things.”

Three of Simmelink’s former basketball teammates played college hoops this season: Twins Lacie and Lexie Hull at Stanford and Hailey Christopher at Idaho.

Losing three Division I players from any team leaves big holes . On top of that, longtime coach Freddie Rehkow stepped down to spend more time with family.

“I am so proud of my teammates,” Simmelink said. “I went to the Gonzaga game when (the twins) came to town and it was almost surreal to see them playing in that game. I go to Gonzaga games all the time, and there they were. I played with them! It was a little strange.”

Despite the losses in personnel and first-year coach Bragdon on the bench, Central Valley has found a new way to play and a new way to succeed.

“We heard a lot of talk over the summer about how good we were last year and how we weren’t going to be as good this year, how we were going to struggle,” she explained. “To be honest, winning again this year is a little sweeter just because no one expected us to do it.”

In her first three seasons at CV, Simmelink was the distributor. She could score when an opportunity presented itself, but it wasn’t key to the team’s success. Her defense and her passing skills were her main contributions.

This year, the Bears have needed her to score in addition to running the offense and being the team’s defensive stopper.

“She’s the one we put on an opposing team’s best player,” Bragdon said. “At the end of the game they’ll look at the box score and think ‘Oh, that player had an off-night.’ No. They didn’t have an off night. They were just guarded within an inch of their life by Mady.”

More than that, he said.

“Mady doesn’t need a lot of direction,” the coach said. “There have been times, especially late in games, where I will look at Mady and just tell her to go make a play. I trust her decision-making. She has some guidelines for what we want to do, but I trust her to make good decisions and make something good happen.”

There were bumps along the way.

The Bears’ 34-game GSL win streak came to an end with a 61-52 loss at Lewis and Clark on Dec. 14. Mt. Spokane beat the Bears 64-53 a nonleague game on Jan 2, before knocking off the Wildcats 68-45 in their league matchup on Jan. 22.

“I think things really started to come together in the first game with University,” Simmelink said. “We did not have a good first half and we got in the locker room and we talked about how much we wanted to beat U-Hi. We went out and played a great second half and won the game.”

But the next game was the loss to LC.

“We learned a lot from the two games that we lost,” Bragdon agreed. “It wasn’t a bad thing. We learned what we needed to know and how we needed to play. I think we figured out that we have everything it takes in the room with us to get there in the room with us.”