Girls hoops thriving in North Idaho

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There has been the occasional year — last year being the most recent example —when no 5A boys teams from District 1 qualified for the state high school basketball tournament.

You can’t say that very often about the 5A girls.

In a nine-year stretch from 2006-2014, a team from the 5A Inland Empire League (which includes Lewiston from District 2) played in the state championship game.

And, in the last eight of those years, a 5A IEL team won the state title. All four teams won at least one — Coeur d’Alene with four titles, Lewiston with two, and Lake City and Post Falls one each.

Two of those title games were all-District 1 affairs — Lake City over Coeur d’Alene in 2007, and Post Falls over Coeur d’Alene in 2013.

And in 2010, Coeur d’Alene beat Lewiston in the title game. The following year, Lewiston beat Coeur d’Alene for the championship.

THIS YEAR, regional champion Post Falls and runner-up Lake City represent the North at state, looking to end a two-year “drought” of sorts, which saw Boise-area teams square off for the state title. Two years ago, Lewiston was the lone 5A IEL team to make it to state, marking the first time in more than a decade that a District 1 team didn’t qualify.

Both face a tough road to the title game — Post Falls faces two-time defending champion Mountain View of Meridian, though those two Maverick teams featured star guard Destiny Slocum, now playing as a freshman at Maryland.

Lake City beat Mountain View earlier this season, and Post Falls beat Lake City in both matchups this season.

Lake City opens vs. Centennial, runner-up in the District 3 tournament to top-ranked Eagle, seeking its first state title in girls hoops. By the way, Eagle’s coach is former Caldwell High, Washington Husky and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Cody Pickett.

If Post Falls wins today, the Trojans would likely face Eagle in the semifinals.

(One of Post Falls’ two losses this season was to Borah of Boise, the last game in a stretch of four games in three days in December in Boise. Lake City beat Borah last week in a state play-in game. So do with that what you will when you go comparing results between teams).

ALL TOLD, eight District 1 teams qualified for state this year — Post Falls and Lake City (5A), Sandpoint (4A), Timberlake and Priest River (3A), St. Maries (2A), and Genesis Prep and Lakeside (1A Division II).

Lake City and Lakeside both won their state play-in games, often a sign of the strength of a league when a regional/district runner-up can also win its way in.

In addition to the tireless work put in over the summer by the head coaches of the high school teams, the success of girls basketball in North Idaho is also due, in part, to a couple of powerhouse AAU programs — the North Idaho Elite, led by North Idaho College women’s coaches Chris and Carey Carlson; as well as the Spokane Stars, led for decades by Ron Adams.

ONE FINAL thought.

Timberlake’s girls have mostly done their stuff out of the spotlight, in Spirit Lake, destroying teams, especially in the last couple of years.

Timberlake has played in the state 3A title game in five of the last six seasons, and the defending champions are favored to do it again this year — though the Tigers’ toughest foe might come today, in their opener vs. Teton.

Last year’s team went a dozen or so deep, and featured hockey-like “line changes” where waves of five players at a time came in and continued the full-court pressure of the previous five.

This year’s team isn’t quite as deep but is equally impressive, showing they can score in the half-court, too, in addition to scoring off turnovers.

They tried to find the toughest teams in the area to schedule them in nonleague play this season, and was able to schedule three of the four 5A IEL teams. They beat Lewiston and Coeur d’Alene, and lost by just three points to Post Falls.

Teams like that don’t come around here very often, especially at the smaller-school level. The last one I can think of, in 3A, was the Lakeland girls that won back-to-back state titles in 2001-02. Those Hawk teams weren’t as deep, but were really good through the starting lineup and the first few players off the bench. And the Hawks held their own against the larger schools they played as well.

So, with four seniors on this team, including a pair of college-bound players who have led the team for four years, let’s appreciate the Tigers for (hopefully) the next three days.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter@CdAPressSports.

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