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Storybook ending: New Central Valley head coach leads Bears to sixth state 4A title

Felice Orrell’s first season as girls basketball coach at Central Valley reads something like a movie script, complete with a storybook ending.

“I know!” she says. “I think I need to talk to someone in Hollywood!”

It would make a better-than-average film.

A 2002 CV grad who played on two state championship teams under coach Dale Poffenroth, Orrell was offered the head coaching job the week before practice started, then guided the Bears to the school’s sixth Class 4A state championship.

It’s not exactly a remake of “Hoosiers,” but at 6-foot-2, Orrell and Gene Hackman are the same height. So there’s that.

Orrell was the varsity assistant at CV a year ago but, after giving birth to her daughter, decided to take a year off from coaching to concentrate on being a mom.

Then the Central Valley School District declined to rehire Ryan Bragdon for a second season and CVHS offered the job to Orrell just days before the season was set to start.

“She called me and asked what she should do,” former coach and mentor Freddie Rehkow said. “I told her that she needed to sit down and talk it over with her husband. If there was any way this would work, I told her this would be her dream job at her alma mater, and she could make it work.

“She took the job, and she came over to the house that Sunday and we talked for about three hours. I told her everything I knew about the players, and she left here with a playbook.”

That last piece, especially, made Rehkow happy. Central Valley had always played an up-tempo game under Poffenroth and Rehkow. Bragdon liked to slow the pace and set up a half-court game.

“I was glad to see that Felice wanted to get back to that,” he said. “I said when I stepped down two years ago that the cupboard in this program was far from empty. I thought the squad last year had a good chance to do really well at state, and they did. And I thought this group had a chance to do really well at state, and they really did.”

Orrell was hired so late in the process that there was no time to hire a varsity assistant coach. Instead, assistants Mallorie Franco, Matt Didesidero and Jarriq White filled in wherever and whenever necessary.

“I asked a few people about coming on board as my varsity assistant, but they couldn’t,” Orrell said. “After a little while I just didn’t want to rock the boat with my assistant coaches by bringing in someone new. I am just so appreciative of the hard work they put in to make this season work. They all just stepped up and made it all work.”

Without a summer prepping for the season or a fall to draft a set of practice schedules, Orrell knew she and the team already were behind before she rolled the basketballs out for the first turnout.

“I told the girls that we just did not have the time to figure out who was in charge,” she said. “I told them I needed them to grow up in a big hurry if we were going to make the season work.

“I am so proud of the way they responded.”

At the start, Orrell said she thought her home life would be a refuge from the whirlwind grind of a tough varsity basketball season.

“You know what? It turned out to be just exactly the opposite,” she said. “Whatever else was happening with life and with the kids, basketball practice was, like, my calm place. I think it was the fact that basketball practice was always structured. And the girls did what I told them to do. That doesn’t happen at home.”

Her year-old daughter may not remember much about this magical season, but Orrell’s son certainly will.

“My son was always kind of shy, but he’s getting into cars and sports,” she explained. “Before we left for state, he asked me if we were going off to play for the Piston Cup. I told him, ‘Yes, sweetheart, we are.’ ”

“He really came out of his shell, and he loves the girls. And they love my kids. They’re always asking if they can hold my daughter and they are always looking out for my son. That made me so happy.”

With basketball, mentors are around to talk things over. Rehkow was always happy to offer insights and observations. Wendy Schuller, Orrell’s coach during four seasons at Eastern Washington, was also available with encouragement.

As the season wore on, she said she became more and more sure of what the team needed, and where it could ultimately end up.

“I think I knew we were going to go all the way after we beat Glacier Peak to win regionals,” she said. “They were supposed to be such a good team, and we handled them pretty well. I left that game asking myself, ‘Who’s going to sink this boat?’ I didn’t think anyone could.

“But mostly, I knew Peyton Howard was absolutely determined to go to state, and she wasn’t coming back without her trophy. She was ready to carry us if she had to.”

Orrell and the Bears came home with Central Valley’s third state title in the past five years and its sixth title in nine trips to the state championship game.

They proved once again the Greater Spokane League is the premier girls basketball league in the state. In 44 years, the GSL has won 18 championships (twice the league sent both teams to the finals). In the past 20 years, a GSL team has been in the finals of the Class 3A or 4A tournament 18 times. CV captured the league’s seventh state title in nine years and 10th in the past 14.

Orrell said she will treasure a photo she took once the team returned home: her two children posing with the state championship trophy.

“My husband pointed out that I had been part of two of Central Valley’s six state championship trophies as a player, and now had helped win a third as a coach,” she said. “That made me think for a minute. That’s impressive.”

Freddie Rehkow thought for a moment.

“I was impressed by that idea,” he said. “And then I realized that I had been part of two titles as an assistant coach and two more as head coach. So I have four! You still have a ways to go.

“I am so proud of Felice, and what she and this group of girls have accomplished. And they did it the right way.”