Colton girls’ lead state hoops

Colton celebrates their turnaround state 1B championship win on Saturday, March 2, 2019 at the Spokane Arena. The Colton Wildcats beat the Pomeroy Pirates 51-43. Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW

If you could call any team a dynasty during the past two decades in high school basketball in the state of Washington, most certainly the one that would top the list is Colton.

The Wildcats, who have been a perennial force in the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Class 1B tournament year-in and year-out for the better part of the past two decades, recently completed a string of 10 championships in the past 12 years. They’ve been unquestionably at the head of the class as far as cranking out talent in the smallest of divisions.

Pretty amazing for a town that had an estimated population of just 467 people in 2018, nestled 14 miles south of Pullman and 22 miles north of Lewiston.

But the little town with the small high school that seemingly flexes its muscles every March also now has something else it can brag about: the best basketball team, boys’ or girls’, in the state.

Eli Sports Network, a web-only based sports site, crowned the Wildcats its grand champion all-decade team Thursday.

The site, which began in 2011, awards the title based on a point system based on placing in the top eight at the state tournament the past 10 seasons. It ranked the top five teams in all classifications, then ranked them by gender, then did an overall winner.

It was no contest. Colton had a total of 85 points based on a total of eight championships and one third-place finish in the 2010s. Second in the overall race was Lynden Christian’s girls. The Class 1A Lyncs tallied 71 points.

The top 10 overall consisted of four girls’ and six boys’ teams. The best boys’ team overall was Class 3A Rainier Beach with 66 points.

In the girls’ overall top 10, no other area team made it. Colton outdistanced Sunnyside Christian in Class 1B by 48 points.

The Wildcats’ run of titles started as an eight-peat, running from 2009-16. After placing third in 2017, Colton then went back-to-back in 2018-19. However, the Wildcats were stunned this season, going 0-2 in the district tournament and not even getting to Spokane.

Still, it’s been an amazing run for Colton and longtime coach Clark Vining.

“A Decade of Excellence!” Vining tweeted Thursday. “1B Girls Team of the Decade... All Classification Girls Team of the Decade...All Classification Girls/Boys Team of the Decade...a tribute to all the players who wore the blue and white#titletown#goldballinc#startedin2006”

The Wildcats were not the only team from the area that made their mark on the list.

Colfax’s girls’ team took fourth place in the Class 2B rankings, finishing with 25 points. The Bulldogs, under the leadership of another longtime coach, Corey Baerlocher, won titles in 2014 and 2018. Previously, Colfax also won in 2002 and 2004-07 in Class 1A, and 2009 and 2010 in its current classification.

“Obviously, there’s a rich tradition and legacy of success in the Colfax girls’ basketball program, even before I got here,” said Baerlocher, who has been the coach since 2002. “The program is bigger than me and I was lucky enough to come into a program that the kids were committed to the same principles as a program as I was.”

Clarkston and Pullman had their boys’ teams finish Nos. 2 and 3 in the Class 2A top-five rankings.

The Bantams and the Greyhounds each had significant runs during the decade.

Craig Brantner led Pullman to championships in 2013 and 2014.

“We just had good players, that always helps,” Brantner said. “They liked basketball, spending a lot of time doing it, and it helped us to have a lot of good teams throughout the years. As a coaching staff, we set expectations every year, and the kids follow them. We just kind of plug and play our kids and maybe change things depending on the kind of players we have. The blueprint we’ve kind of built is working, and we don’t get too far away from it.”

Justin Jones coached Clarkston to title runs in 2015 and 2016, almost pulling off another crown in this year’s championship before falling 56-53 to North Kitsap in Yakima.

“Those honors are always nice to hear and see,” said Jones, who also noted MaxPreps ranked the school No. 8 throughout the decade in all classifications for boys’ teams. “I think is what this does is validate a couple of things: a really good run of players that I’ve had over the past couple of years. Players win games. The second thing is we’ve been trying to build a culture of tradition.”

Donn Walden may be reached at (208) 848-2258, dwalden@lmtribune.com, or on Twitter at @waldo9939.

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