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University guard Ellie Boni (5) heads to the basket as Central Valley forward Kate Sams (2) defends during the Stinky Sneaker high school basketball game at the Spokane Veterans Arena, Wed., Jan. 16, 2019. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Girls 4A preview: Division I bound seniors lead University, Central Valley in wide open title chase

This season, more than any other in the recent past, the Greater Spokane League girls 4A title chase is wide open. One could make an argument for just about any of the six teams to come out on top at the end of the season.

Two of those teams, University and Central Valley, participated in the Valley Jamboree on Saturday at U-Hi, along with East Valley and West Valley. And though there might be some rust still left to polish, both appear anxious to get on with it.

The two teams will take very different paths hoping to end up at the same destination.

Central Valley, which made an appearance at state last season with a senior-heavy squad, will be led by a Division I-bound player that didn’t play a minute last season, while University boasts a trio of D-I seniors looking to cap their very successful high school careers with a long run at state.

Talented trio lead for Titans

All-league first-team guard Ellie Boni is anxious to get her senior season started.

“Yes, I’m anxious,” she admitted. “But I’m so excited at the same time. I’m looking forward to playing, going out there knowing it’s my last season, working hard and wanting to win a state championship. Then I’m excited to just go play some college ball.”

Boni will do that at Colorado State, where she plans to study journalism.

“I chose (CSU) over all my other colleges just based on what I could do there and the impact there. I knew I could start off the bat. I knew I could make a big impact for them. Love the coaching staff – it felt like home.”

She had plenty of offers to choose from.

“I felt like my opportunity there was better,” she said. “I didn’t really want to sit for two years. I wanted to play, make a big impact and it just felt right. People tell you that you get that feeling, and I just thought as much. And it hit and it felt right.”

Boni felt a relief after she made her decision.

“I have pressure on me all the time, and I take on pressure – a lot. But it definitely gave me a stress relief when I committed. I knew where I wanted to be. I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore.

“It just makes it easier for me to play and not worry about impressing people or stuff like that. .”

Boni thinks the league is wide open this year.

“You don’t really know what you’re going to get until you start. But we do have a really, really good chance … to actually be GSL champs, so I’m excited.

“We’ve got a good team, the drama has gone down a lot,” she admitted. “Last year, we didn’t show what we could have really done, but this year I have a really good feeling about it.”

The Titans finished 16-8 overall and 9-5 in league last year but lost two of their last three regular season games and were bounced by Chiawana in the District 8 playoffs.

“We had ups and downs (last year) and I think that was kind of our detriment having hot and cold games,” Boni admitted. “So I think we just need to find that medium thing and just play our game, have some roles, have some fun.”

Boni should have plenty of help. Twins Tyler and Jacksen McCliment-Call – Idaho State 5A champs their sophomore year with Melody Kempton (Gonzaga) and Post Falls – are bound for University of Portland next season.

“That’s super exciting,” she said of her teammates. “I think we have a little good intimidation factor right there for some teams, but just having three Division I players makes us more of a scoring threat. We’re one of the taller teams in the GSL, too, so should be fun. I’m super excited.”

Coach Jay Kennedy echoed his leader’s words.

“We’re excited. They’ve been practicing hard,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go, it’s the beginning of the season and you know how that is – everybody has to come together and play together. But we’re certainly excited about the season for sure.”

Kennedy really likes the makeup of his seniors.

“We have four senior kids this year, and I am going to miss those kids,” he admitted. “You don’t even want to think about it because you’re going to miss them so much for the people that they are.

“I don’t know that you’re going to see any more competitive kid than the four of those girls are. And they want to work together, they want to have success and they want to win. It’s kind of fun to watch. It’s fun to practice for sure.”

Change of plans for Bears

Central Valley (22-5, 13-1) qualified for the state tourney last season, finishing second in the District 8 tourney, then knocking off Glacier Peak in regionals to reach the Dome, before falling to Bellarmine Prep in a quarterfinal.

But six seniors from that squad have moved on. And GSL 4A coach of the year Ryan Bragdon was relieved of his duties just two weeks ago with little public explanation.

The Bears turned to assistant coach and former player Felice Orrell to take over the head coaching duties.

Orrell said the change has been “exciting,” but she’s up to the task.

“Obviously it’s challenging,” she admitted. “But I think life shows you doors and sometimes you just gotta go through them. It’s an amazing opportunity, and I feel really blessed and thankful. My staff, my kids are all just rocking and rolling, and we’ve been having a good time.”

Senior Peyton Howard, who missed all of last season with a devastating knee injury, said the players have adjusted quickly.

“I don’t think it’s been a challenge at all,” she said. “I think it was probably the best thing for us and our team. Felice plays the way we want to play. I think it’s gone really smooth – there haven’t been any bumps or anything.”

Orrell is happy that Howard – who despite her injury is committed to play next season at Seattle University – is finally healthy and able to contribute.

“I’m super excited,” Howard said. “I love the changes. Our team is really tight so it’s not just basketball, it’s just fun.

“It’s just exciting to finally see her on the floor,” Orrell said. “Just her leadership – she knows the game really well. She’s like a court coach out there. That helps us huge and we’re just excited for her to do something she loves.

“An injury like that is just challenging, as we all know, so to have her back out on the floor, it’s good for everyone.”

Howard admitted last year was rough on her not being able to contribute anything but encouragement.

“Sitting out last year was super hard, but I think it’s worth it in the long run. I’m really excited to play this year and I think we’re gonna go out with a bang for sure.”

As if CV didn’t have enough hurdles to start the season, 6-foot senior forward Alora Fitzgerald sprained an ankle and might miss until after the holiday season.

“It’s just kind of ‘next man up,’ ” Orrell said. “We’re just rolling with it and just doing what we gotta do to get business taken care of.”

“It’s a little bit weird because we each have such big roles coming in,” Howard said. “Seniors are now the big leaders, and I think we have really good seniors, really good juniors. So it’s kind of like trying to figure out the mix of who’s what. But it’s been fun.”

Junior MJ Bruno and senior Anika Chalich should help lighten the load. Bruno is a tenacious rebounder and brings a ton of energy, while Chalich is the long-range option.

“(Bruno) is just a fun kid to watch,” Orrell said. “She’s always smiling, she loves the game.

“She always does good things for us, always vocal for us, just a lot of little things that not everyone to sees.”

Chalich has grown more confident in her shot in each passing season.

“It’s kind of that time now, challenging her, because it is her senior season,” Orrell said.

“That’s what I asked my seniors, ‘What do you guys want out of this year? This is your season, this is your year. Let’s just go for it, let that ball rip and have fun with it.’ ”

League capsules

Alphabetic order, last year’s record.

Ferris (7-13, 2-12): Scott Ward’s first season at the helm for the Saxons ended up with a sixth-place finish, but he has four starters and nine letter winners returning, giving optimism for the future. Though team MVP Mayson Younger graduated, a pair of sophomore leaders return: point guard Elliot Hencz and defensive specialist Kacey Spink, along with junior shooting guard Laney Erickson. “We will need to play relentless pressure defense as a team and rebound well to compete,” Ward said. “We must out work our opponents every night.”

Gonzaga Prep (11-11, 6-8): The dean of GSL basketball coaches, Mike Arte, starts his 32nd year with the Pups. Three starters and five letter winners return from his fourth-place team a year ago. Honorable mention all-league senior post Demi Howlett, post Lakin Gardner and wing Leah Carney give the program stability, while senior post Olivia Mayer, a first-team all-league selection as a freshman, returns after missing two seasons with ACL injuries. “We have several girls that could be our leading scorer night to night,” Arte said. “So therefore really good balance. We have very experienced seniors, which in my experience leads to a good season.”

Lewis and Clark (23-4, 12-2): Third-year coach Gabe Medrano took his squad to the state title game last season, but will have his hands full this year as he lost four starters and six letter winners to graduation. The lone returning starter is point guard Andie Zylak, an honorable mention all-league pick, who provides a strong all-around game and lots of energy. She’ll get help from junior guard Macey Grant, who returns from a knee injury after lettering her freshman year. “To be competitive in the always-tough GSL, we will need to play great team defense and rebound as a team,” Medrano said. “If we can do that we know we will be in every game this year.”

Mead (9-11, 5-9): The Panthers were fifth in the league last year for coach Quantae Anderson, entering his 10th season. He has three starters and seven letter winners back, including junior post Jordynn Hutchinson and sophomore starters Olivia Moore and Alicia Suggs. The big news here is senior transfer guard Joelnell Momberg and her sophomore sister Kyla. The senior Momberg has committed to Montana next season and as a sophomore led her Box Elder team to a Montana Class C state title with a winning margin of 50 points during the season. “Our varsity experience, along with the exuberance of youth, will bring a fun dynamic to a team that finished one spot out of the playoffs last season,” Anderson said.