PASCO -- For a second consecutive season, the Chiawana girls basketball team earned a state berth.
The difference this year is that after all the hard work and all the winning, the Riverhawks have been rewarded with a game at Richland High School.
"It's different because the atmosphere won't be the same," senior Mikaela Rivard said. "It's state, but it's at Richland ... it's weird because state has always been at Tacoma.
"In a way, it won't feel like state."
According to the WIAA, though, it is state.
"It's called state, but everyone who is a basketball person knows this isn't state," Chiawana coach Steve Davis said. "I guess we have to jump through the hoops to get over there. We'll do what they ask us to do."
Beyond just the atmosphere and playing at their arch-rival's gym, the Riverhawks must face the Greater Spokane League's No. 1 team, Lewis & Clark, rather than a No. 3 or 4 seed in the first round of the tournament.
"Compared to other years, it's not fair," Rivard said. "But it is what it is. We still have to play, whether it is a No. 1 or a No. 4."
If the Riverhawks lose to Lewis & Clark, they must turn around and play an elimination game at 1 p.m. Saturday against the Gonzaga Prep-Evergreen (Vancouver) winner.
"In a way, the way they designed it is fair," Davis said, "because one win and we are in. If you happen to lose, you have to play a loser-out against a team coming off of a win. I don't like that too much.
"If you lose, you are going to be physically exhausted after a tough battle with Lewis & Clark; you'll be down in the dumps and then have to regroup and play at 1 p.m. That will be tough."
Despite all the seeming negatives about the situation, there are a few positives for the Riverhawks. Tonight will be just their third game in nearly three weeks, helping them get healthy and be well-rested.
"It's kind of an advantage for us because we don't have to travel or play in an unfamiliar gym," senior Hayley Hodgins said.
The Riverhawks also have had ample time to prepare for their opponent -- something they had a week ago when they dismantled Richland for the district title.
"We've been able to watch film on them," Rivard said, "and then actually work on it in practice. We've been working hard to get prepared to come to play."
The state tournament being broken up over two weeks could also help Chiawana, because the Riverhawks don't have a tremendous amount of depth.
"Last year, it was a strain on us to get through the state tournament," Hodgins said. "This year, it is set up better for our team physically."
So while today's game at Richland might not have the big-game atmosphere of next weekend's games in Tacoma, it isn't all a loss for Chiawana.
* Craig Craker: 509-582-1509; firstname.lastname@example.org