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Girls tourney to crown a champion

by JASON ELLIOTT
Sports Writer | December 28, 2010 8:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - In the third year of the Holiday Inn Express Invitational, which begins today at North Idaho College, the tournament will take a different look as the girls teams will compete in a tournament format and crown a champion on Thursday evening.

Lowry High of Winnemucca, Nev. and Coeur d'Alene (5A) both won state championships. Lapwai and Lewiston were runner-up at the state 1A Division II and 5A tournament.

Federal Way (Wash.) finished third in the Washington state 4A tournament.

"It should be a good draw," NIC athletic director Al Williams said. "Going to a tournament format adds more fan interest and will be more exciting for the girls. There's something about playing for a trophy that makes it fun. We've got state champs from Nevada, Washington and Idaho coming to town. If you can come out of that, you can say you're a Tri-State champion."

Lake City, Post Falls and Chiawana High of Pasco, Wash., round out the eight-team girls bracket. It will the first girls tournament for Chiawana, Federal Way and Lowry.

"We knew we had a great girls tournament when we looked at the teams after last season," Williams said. "That game between Lowry and Coeur d'Alene on the first day should be exciting. Chiawana went to state last year with all juniors. Those semifinal games should be unbelievable because if the seeding holds up, you could see the four toughest teams in Washington and Idaho face off."

Sydney Butler of Lake City, Nathanee Spencer of Lapwai and Kendalyn Brainard are returning all-tournament selections. Brainard has not played this season after suffering a knee injury last summer.

The boys will play in pre-determined games with state 5A champion Post Falls and state 3A champion Priest River among the teams in the field.

Lake Stevens (Wash.), Chiawana, Lake City and Coeur d'Alene round out the six-team boys field.

"Lake Stevens is supposed to be very good," Williams said. "They've got most of their starters back from last year. Priest River will be scrappy and aggressive. Post Falls hasn't lost in the tournament yet, but they've got a tough draw. Chiawana took their lumps last season, but should be pretty good this year."

Both Lincoln High (Tacoma, Wash.) and Lewiston were scheduled to compete, but had to back out of the tournament.

This will be the first time in the tournament for Priest River, Lake Stevens and Chiawana.

"Lincoln has a really good team this year, but couldn't make the trip financially," Williams said. "By the time we tried to finalize the boys field, we couldn't make it an eight-team tournament."

Williams said that all indications are for a true tournament for both divisions next year.

"We'd love to expand the field a little more," Williams said. "To have eight teams on each side would be a good tournament."

Post Falls girls coach Chris Johnson's squad finished the 2009 tournament with a 2-1 record.

"It should be a lot of fun," Johnson said. "We'll see some teams we know and some others that we haven't quite yet. But it will be nice to play in front of the local fans."

Johnson also added that with teams playing a true tournament, it should be entertaining.

"It's a nice improvement," Johnson said. "To actually be crowning a champion, it should be a lot of fun."

Lowry coach Jack Smith hopes his squad is ready for the tournament.

"It's a huge deal," Smith said. "It's over-the-top huge for us. We're all real excited about it. We've been anticipating it for so long, I can't believe it's time. For some girls, this is their first airplane ride."

In order to compete, Smith had to approach and receive approval from the school board to travel to the three-day tournament. The school district is funding the trip.

"Hopefully we'll get there Tuesday afternoon," Smith said. "Al wanted us to come up a day early, but we're also staying in Reno on Monday night. We'll get into Spokane about 10:50 and have five hours to relax before the game."

Lowry opens the tournament against Coeur d'Alene today at 5:30 p.m.

"I've been following them since (Dale) Poffenroth got there," Smith said. "I'm a true fan of what they've accomplished and admire what they've done. This is my 25th year of coaching girls varsity and know what it means to last that long."

Smith added the team likes to get up and down the floor.

"We're a running team," Smith said. "We like to play all 90 feet, press as much as we can and push the ball. We've got some guard speed and very solid posts."

Smith also hopes the team can turn around a slight skid in this week's tournament.

"We've gotten back on track after a bit of a slow start," Smith said. "We're hoping this prepares us for the league and state run. The last three years, I've found a way to get the team to peak in the last 10 games of the season. We're still trying to find our identity. In Nevada, everyone is shooting for us. We get back from this and start league right after it and try to make another state run."

Smith, a graduate of Lakeland High in Rathdrum, is also anxious to see some of his former high school friends and familiar faces when he returns this weekend.

"My dad hasn't seen me coach in 20 years," Smith said. "I'm pretty excited to have him come watch."

Jack is the son of Moe Smith, promoter of the House of Fury boxing at the Coeur d'Alene Casino.

"One of the girls said that those Coeur d'Alene girls get to sleep in their own beds the night before the game," Smith said. "We didn't really want to talk about that being a distraction for us. We just want to get there and play our hearts out."

The girls championship game is Thursday at 7 p.m.

HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS INVITATIONAL

Tuesday, Dec. 28

Game 1 - Federal Way vs. Lake City, 10 a.m. (girls)

Game 2 - Lake Stevens vs. Lake City, 11:30 (boys)

Game 3 - Lewiston vs. Lapwai, 1 p.m. (girls)

Game 4 - Chiawana (Pasco, Wash.) vs. Post Falls, 2:30 (girls)

Game 5 - Chiawana vs. Post Falls, 4 (boys)

Game 6 - Winnemuca vs. Coeur d'Alene, 5:30 (boys)

Game 7 - Priest River vs. Coeur d'Alene, 7 (boys)

Wednesday, Dec. 29

Game 8 - Loser, Game 1 vs. Loser, Game 3, 10 a.m. (girls consolation)

Game 9 - Loser, Game 4 vs. Loser, Game 6, 11:30 (girls consolation)

Game 10 - Winner, Game 1 vs. Winner, Game 3, 1 p.m. (girls semifinals)

Game 11 - Winner, Game 4 vs. Winner, Game 6, 2:30 (girls semifinals)

Game 12 - Lake City vs. Priest River, 4 (boys)

Game 13 - Coeur d'Alene vs. Chiawana, 5:30 (boys)

Game 14 - Post Falls vs. Lake Stevens, 7 (boys)

Thursday, Dec. 30

Game 15 - Loser, Game 8 vs. Loser, Game 9, 10 a.m. (girls seventh place)

Game 16 - Winner, Game 8 vs. Winner, Game 9, 11:30 (girls fifth place)

Game 17 - Loser, Game 10 vs. Loser, Game 11, 1 p.m. (girls third place)

Game 18 - Priest River vs. Post Falls, 2:30 (boys)

Game 19 - Chiawana vs. Lake City, 4 (boys)

Game 20 - Lake Stevens vs. Coeur d'Alene, 5:30 (boys)

Game 21 - Winner, Game 10 vs. Winner, Game 11, 7 (girls championship)

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