Talent on the big stage: almost 100 basketball players of the Greater Spokane League have signed with the Division 1 schools for over 45 years
When former Central Valley stars Lexie and Lacie Hull won the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship with Stanford last spring, it was a great memory for Angie Bjorklund.
“The Hull twins are great players,” said the former U-Hi star, emphasizing great. “I’ve never had the chance to follow them (while playing overseas), but winning the NCAA championship is like no other experience and I’m really excited to see two more Spokane natives witness it.”
Playing basketball for Tennessee has been Bjorklund’s goal since she started dribbling a basketball, and the dream came true in 2007 when she started her first game as a freshman for the Lady Vols. The next April, she was the first NCAA women’s basketball champion from the Greater Spokane League.
What Björklund did overshadowed another amazing GSL milestone.
“I think there were seven girls on DI scholarships the year I graduated,” she said. “Only from the 2007 class!”
Nothing else can be expected of a league that has won 18 national titles in 33 seasons and had a team in 4A or 3A championship game in 14 of the last 15 seasons. (There was no national tournament last season due to the coronavirus.)
Felice Moore Orrell, who played in the 2001 and 2002 Central Valley State Champions and coached the Bears to a title in 2020, said, “Other areas make amazing athletes, but Spokane made really great women basketball players.”
Nearly 100 GSL alums have signed to Division I schools in the league’s 45-year history, about two dozen of them with Power 5 programs.
“It’s the water,” joked Kristin Hepton Spear, a member of the 1993 undefeated Central Valley champion.
There are many reasons HSL has an abundance of talent and everyone has played a role except water.
“I trained in Idaho so I knew there was great basketball in east Washington,” said Tara Vanderveer, Stanford Hall of Fame trainer, who first saw a HSL player, Meads Regan in the mid-1990s. committed. “What a bonus to get two players who are very special.”
Finding the Hulls wasn’t difficult. The Bears have been at CV 88: 1 for the past three years and have headlined the Spokane Stars Club team founded by Ron Adams more than 40 years ago.
“We were the first big club team in the area,” said Adams, who also runs Sunday training sessions for school-age girls throughout the winter. “Now there are eight or nine, plus about 30 small ones.”
Bjorklund said: “When you have the chance to play all summer with the top GSL players and with great coaches, you have no choice but to get better. On the other hand, I play the same players every week. Spokane is just a basketball city. “
And these teams are well trained.
“Basketball is really important in this community,” said Oregon’s coach Kelly Graves, who made Gonzaga a force before moving on and making the Ducks a Final Four program. “Great coaches, look at the list of state championship coaches, it’s not just a school.”
Central Valley has six titles, Mead and Lewis and Clark four each, and Shadle Park and Gonzaga Prep two. And there were nine runners-up, including two cases of a pure GSL final.
“I’ve seen coaches from all over the world, I’ve seen training in every corner of the country, and there are coaches as good in the northwest as anywhere in the United States,” said Graves.
“The coaches take the kids they have and they thrive,” said Jeanne Helfer, former Mead and Mt. Spokane coach. If you don’t, you are competitive. You always had to bring a game with you.
“Iron sharpens iron.”
This was particularly true of Mead and CV in the 90s, who got an astonishing eight top 4 finishes in four years and 13 finishes in ten years.
“It was absolutely great for girls’ basketball,” said former CV trainer Dale Poffenroth. “If you went to a Mead CV game, you had to go early to get a seat. … that’s the kind of rivalry you want. You want to hit these people because then you could hit anyone.
“It’s about competition.”
When a GSL team gives the odds, it comes back with a trophy. Since 1988, when Shadle Park defeated Lewis and Clark in the championship game, 63 state-qualifying GSL teams have won trophies, 16 not.
“Maybe the terrible weather in the northwest has something to do with it,” said Emily Westerberg Love, two-time national champion at CV. “But after leaving and coming back, this region is crazy about sports. Parents are enthusiastic about sports. Parents are active. “
Spear said, “We were fortunate to have a lot of people, my dad, Ron Adams and Poff, who teach good footwork, dribbling, good shooting technique … from an early age. My dad used to say, ‘If you can’t dribble, you can’t play’ which is so true (and) ‘If you have good footwork, you can dominate.’ “
The 1993 CV title crowned a GSL series of six championship appearances in a row and five titles. As of 2010 at the 4A level, there were seven title games in a row with six championships, the last of CV in 2016.
Helfer referred to major community events like Bloomsday, Spike ‘n Dig Volleyball and Hoopfest for building a sport-crazy culture that has increased the success of Gonzaga’s men’s and women’s programs.
“Our city of Spokane loves things, community sporting events,” she said. “This stuff creates a kind of attitude that we’re doing that. Part of it is that we don’t know anything else. There are expectations and everyone wants to be part of them.
“This was Hooptown USA long before they knew that name.”