Video: Final Xcellent 25 girls basketball rankings
See how Central Valley wound up as National Champions.
Spokane is a city of some 200,000 people in eastern Washington state, close to the Idaho border and, in the minds of many Americans, pretty much next to nowhere.
And though there have been plenty of talented basketball players from the area (WNBA All-Star Briann January is the most famous, but she's not alone), it doesn't have much of a reputation for girls basketball. One reason is that high schools in Washington are only allowed 20 regular season games, which doesn't leave much room in the schedule for travel.
Another reason is that many of the best players don't venture too far from the Northwest during the summer, which means that for a team like Central Valley (Spokane Valley, Wash.) to find its way to No. 1 in the nation, it has to do some pretty special things.
So it did.
After going unbeaten in the regular season — and 83-1 over the past three years — Central Valley accepted an invitation to the GEICO High School Basketball Nationals in New York City to see what the competition from the East Coast looked like.
The competition — three teams ranked in the Xcellent 25 — was less curious about Central Valley, as the slender suburban girls from 3,000 miles away were not seen as a threat by the more battle-tested teams from Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. In fact, it didn't take particularly sharp ears for the Central Valley players to hear the less than complimentary comments about their chances at Christ the King High School.
But the western representative did not need much more motivation, as the only loss in the past three years, to Bellarmine Prep in the 2017 state championships, still rankled.
"We've had a chip on our shoulder since last year," said Central Valley coach Fred Rehkow, "and at the start of this season, we were all in. We were not going to feel that way again."
But after rolling past Westlake (Atlanta) in the first game at the GEICO event, and building a big lead in the championship against then No. 5 Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Chattanooga, Tenn.), the wheels started to come off. Hamilton Heights' pressure forced turnovers, and after controlling the game pretty much the entire way, suddenly Central Valley found itself behind.
That kind of scenario usually plays out with the team with the bigger reputation, taller players and elite talent to then cruise to a win. But this time, the underdogs battled back and, thanks to some late-game steadiness, won by five.
That made Central Valley the only unbeaten team in the country with wins over nationally ranked teams, and made them an easy choice for the No. 1 team in the final Xcellent 25 National Girls Basketball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard. (It also bumped Hamilton Heights to No. 8 and Westlake, which had played the weakest schedule of the four, to No. 15.)
"We're very disciplined," said Rehkow, and even though Central Valley hadn't played a close game all year, with just a two-point lead in the waning seconds, flawlessly executed a press-break against Hamilton Heights to seal the win.
"It was awesome," said Rehkow. "It validated what we've done. These teams underestimated us."
They don't now.
MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Girls Basketball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard
1. (1) Central Valley (Spokane Valley, Wash.), 29-0 2. (2) Riverdale (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), 36-13. (3) Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.), 29-1 4. (4) St. John's (Washington, D.C.), 32-2 5. (6) Baldwin (N.Y.), 26-16. (7) Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.), 29-1 7. (8) Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.), 30-4 8. (5) Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Chattanooga, Tenn.), 25-39. (9) Centennial (Las Vegas), 29-3 10. (10) Mercer County (Harrodsburg, Ky.), 36-311. (11) Princess Anne (Virginia Beach, Va.), 26-1 12. (12) Winter Haven (Winter Haven, Fla.), 32-2 13. (14) Manasquan (N.J.), 32-214. (15) Windward (Los Angeles), 27-3 15. (13) Westlake (Atlanta), 30-2 16. (16) St. Frances Academy (Baltimore), 24-4 17. (17) Amarillo (Texas), 40-2 18. (18) Pinewood (Los Altos Hills, Calif.), 27-3 19. (19) Duncanville (Texas), 39-2 20. (20) Southridge (Beaverton, Ore.), 29-1 21. (21) Brentwood Academy (Brentwood, Tenn.), 29-222. (22) Edison Academy (Detroit, Mich.), 24-1 23. (23) Eastview (Apple Valley, Minn.), 32-0 24. (24) Dimond (Anchorage, Alaska), 30-0 25. (25) Northwest Guilford (Greensboro, N.C.), 29-2 Dropped out: