Last year, the Greater Spokane League sent four teams to state championship games. Three of the four are back this season.
On the boys side, two-time defending State 4A champion Gonzaga Prep and State 3A runners-up Mt. Spokane are back for another go at the Tacoma Dome. GSL and District 8 4A champ Central Valley looks to open some eyes.
Central Valley has a lot of ways to beat a team. With three all-league picks, there’s plenty of star power.
But the Bears (22-2) are deep, with eight players who could start on any team in the league.
That showed in their regional matchup on Saturday, as sophomore Dylan Darling scored 17 points off the bench and No. 4 Central Valley edged No. 5 Federal Way 76-72 at University HS.
The Bears have a bye to a quarterfinal Thursday at 3:45 p.m. and will play the winner of No. 6 West Valley (Yakima) and No. 11 Skyview.
“They’re starting to open some eyes,” CV coach Mike Laws said. “Now we’ll get over to the Dome and a few more will see ’em.”
Laws likes his deep bench.
“I mean, we don’t have that marquee guy,” he said. “You look at our stats and we’ve got four guys in double (figures), and each night it’s somebody different. Our kids are real comfortable with that, and they know that that is kind of what we’re about.”
Of course, he has a luxury few in the state can boast – a 6-foot-10 post.
Junior Gavin Gilstrap, another All-GSL first-team selection, has made vast strides the past two seasons. The big guy not only has a deft touch around the basket, but he averages nearly three assists.
Laws allows himself to think about what Gilstrap will accomplish with another summer of weight training and working on his explosiveness.
“I dream about it every night,” he said. “Hopefully, he’s just little quicker, a little stronger.”
Point guard Jayce Simmons was an All-GSL first-team selection.
“I can’t say enough about the job he has done in understanding the tempo and flow of the game,” Laws said.
Shooting guard Noah Sanders was a second-team all-league pick. Senior forward Quinn Johnson and junior guard Ryan Clay are the other starters.
“The GSL has prepared us well for what we will see,” Laws said. “It’s just a matter of keeping focused on the now, not to be content on getting to state and continuing to believe in ourselves and each other.”
Gonzaga Prep can still call itself the two-time defending state champs. The Bullpups have their work cut out for them to make it three.
Despite seven 3-pointers and 32 points from All-GSL first-team pick Liam Lloyd, No. 8 G-Prep (18-7) was edged by No. 1 Union 66-64 on Saturday and faces No. 9 Sumner in an elimination game Wednesday at 9 p.m.
G-Prep coach Matty McIntyre said in November his team would get better as the season wore on – and he was right. The Bullpups returned just two players off last year’s title team, Lloyd and sophomore Jayden Stevens.
But the 6-6 Stevens has missed all of the season with a leg injury, and it took a while for the Bullpups to jell. G-Prep lost three of its first four games, but found its footing during a holiday tournament in Washington, D.C., and carried over into league play, where it lost only twice – both to Central Valley.
The Bullpups gave Union a much tougher battle Saturday than they did in a 77-59 loss to the Titans on Jan. 4.
“I’m happy with the way the kids competed,” McIntyre said. “We obviously made up some ground since the last time. Shows we’ve been working hard and improved as a team.”
“I think sure, we’ve gotten better,” Lloyd said. “We’ve grown as a group, as a team and I think we came in a bit more motivated. We want to make a statement in the tournament and going to the Dome.”
Mt. Spokane (19-5) was in the top six of the state’s RPI most of the season. Its tough nonleague schedule helped. But late losses to CV and G-Prep dropped the Wildcats a bit. Then, a loss to a bigger Kamiakin team in the District 8 title game put a trip back to state in peril.
Mt. Spokane bounced back in the second-place game in a big way, routing Kennewick 88-41.
“That was the goal – giving yourself a chance,” Mt. Spokane coach David Wagenblast said. “And these guys, I’m so proud of them they did that.”
That allowed the Wildcats to rescue a protected seed through the regional round, but also presented a daunting task: a date with top-ranked Eastside Catholic.
Tyson Degenhart scored 35 points but No. 8 Mt. Spokane fell to No. 1 Eastside Catholic 76-70 in overtime on Saturday. That sends the Wildcats into an elimination game against No. 9 Seattle Prep on Wednesday at 2 p.m.
Should the Wildcats get past the 22-6 Panthers, the team waiting for them is the one that beat them in the state title game last season – No. 7 O’Dea, and top national recruit Paolo Banchero.
It’s a much different Mt. Spokane team that made an impressive run through the state tourney last season, but a significant player remains – GSL Player of the Year Tyson Degenhart.
“Playing against (O’Dea) last year left a salty taste in our mouth,” Degenhart said in November.
The 6-8 junior bound for Boise State averaged more than 25 points, but it wasn’t a solo effort. Junior point guard JoJo Anderson earned second-team all-league honors, and Wagenblast’s rotation is eight deep.
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