The Nez Perce girls from Lapwai High School are the new Idaho state champion basketball team in the 1A division. It’s their second state championship in the past three years and would have been three straight had it not been for an off-night shooting last year when they lost in overtime.
Coach Shawn Spencer talks about the season. “The regular season was really great but we had a weird bad night at the district championship against Clearwater Valley. We shot 16 for 60 and you’re not going to win doing that, and we were 2 for 22 from the three line.” So that sent Lapwai to the state tournament as the second place team from their region.
The state championships were held in Nampa, about 250 miles south of Lapwai. They won their first two games with relative ease, the second against the #1 team from the southern region. The championship game pitted them against Clearwater Valley, not only the team that beat them in the regionals but the team that beat them for the state championship in that overtime game last year, a game in which they missed 21 free throws.
“The girls were really focused this year,” Shawn said. “They were bound and determined not to let that happen again. They had the feeling in the back of their mind of not getting that (championship) banner. I told the girls in the loss at regionals that the travelling trophy belongs to C.V. but they’ve got to give it back every year. We want the championship banner that we can keep. You can all sign it and have it here forever.’”
“We wanted to distribute the ball and get everybody involved. We changed our defenses on them too,” Shawn explained. The result was a blowout with a final score of 61 to 25.
Lapwai had 17 wins, 3 losses during the regular season despite playing a number of teams from much higher divisions. One loss was to Grangeville which went on to win the state championship in the 2A division but Lapwai also beat them twice during the regular season. They also beat Kamiah, the runner-up in 2A, both times they played them. Another loss was to Lewiston which later won the state championship in the 4A (largest schools) division. “We were ahead by 2 with less than three minutes to go,” Shawn recalls. The third loss was to Lake City of Coeur d’Alene, a 4A school ranked among the state’s best.
Fan support for Lapwai was tremendous despite the nearly 500 mile roundtrip to see the games. “We probably had the biggest crowd at the tournament. Asked if had an estimate, Shawn laughed, “No, but a lot! We had a section reserved for us and they bled out from there into other sections. Most were there for all three games. It even included some from the Duck Valley Reservation who drove up to watch us play.”
Eleven of the 12 players on the roster were Native American girls, all Nez Perce. Three starters are seniors and will graduate but a good incoming class of 8th graders has Shawn already looking forward to next season.