Abby Leaman predominantly knows two things about Spokane.
One, it is the host city of the Class 1B state basketball tournament.
And two, there is a Golden Corral downtown — the favorite eatery of her late uncle.
Those two worlds are sure to collide this week for Leaman and the Tacoma Baptist girls, who are part of the 12-team field at the Spokane Arena.
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The Crusaders aren’t just there to soak in the experience for the first time since 2012. At 24-0, they are on the short list of contenders to dethrone eight-time defending 1B champion Colton.
“It will obviously be tough,” Tacoma Baptist leading scorer Brooklyn Pascua said. “But I think we can do it.”
It has been an up-and-down past 15 months for this program.
Josh Narayan, the longtime coach, missed the first two games last season because of ongoing health issues. He returned to the bench in the third game — but ended up leaving the team for good shortly after that.
Beth Wing took over the reins, and things changed immediately.
“That was hard to get used to,” Crusaders center Rachel Van Liew said. “We had no plays that were the same. It wasn’t the same defense. It was a clean slate for everything,”
In fact, that first week under Wing, practices were held on a carpeted court inside Lakewood Baptist Church while the school finished up its gymnasium renovation project.
Wing is well-versed in coaching in Washington: The former Gonzaga University guard coached both at Mead High School and Rogers High School in Puyallup in Class 4A, and Northwest Christian of Colbert at the 2B level.
When her husband retired from the military, the couple moved back to Lakewood two years ago. She was set to do basketball instruction in the community, not coach high school basketball anymore — until Narayan’s sudden resignation happened.
“For me, 4A, 2A, 1B — there is no difference,” Wing said. “Our focus is on team chemistry. That is what I’ve been blessed with here — we play as a team so well. They have equally bought in.”
Last June, Narayan died of heart disease. He was 61.
“I was taking to my aunt,” said Leaman, who is Narayan’s niece. “She said these are kind of his girls, because he coached us in elementary school and junior high.”
If the Crusaders are going to improve on their school-best fifth-place state finish from 2010, they will need to continue to play the type of pressure defense Wing has installed.
Only once in 24 games did an opponent score more than 40 points, and that was Charles Wright Academy in a 51-48 Crusaders’ victory.
“The best thing about defense is when you are in an offensive slump, you can create your own energy from it,” Pascua said.
Wing said the Crusaders’ theme this season has been, “Win Every Moment.”
“They’ve worked really hard for this,” Wing said. “It wasn’t given to us.”