High School Sports

Richland's new coaches have girls together as 1

RICHLAND -- Carly Simon once sang about a mystery man so vain, "you probably think this song is about you."

This story is about the Richland girls basketball team, but no one involved with the program wants it to be about them.

Not the players who have led the Bombers to an 8-2 start, their best in four seasons, and 4-0 in CBBN Cascade play.

Not the coach who took over a team that finished 11-15, endured the resignation of its coach and a lawsuit over alleged discrimination and emotional abuse.

And certainly not the assistant coach who a decade ago led Kennewick to a 4A state title and returned to the sidelines after a four-year hiatus.

Forget Carly Simon, and instead think of another hit song from the '70s: Sister Sledge's We Are Family.

"I think we learned from the past, that we just have to become a family to be successful," said senior guard Gina Ojeda. "I think we've done that."

That was the mission that first-year coach Kristen Davis set for herself when she asked Debbie Roueche to join her staff and set about righting this dysfunctional ship.

"When I came in, one of my biggest goals was to build a family atmosphere here," said Davis, who came over from Southridge. "I wasn't here. I don't know what was going on. But I didn't have a real sense of family in this program."

So the first objective over the summer was instilling that comraderie, and the winter was spent turning Richland into a defensive-minded unit.

The Bombers are allowing just 42.3 points per game -- an eight-point improvement from a year ago.

Davis credited the three seniors in the program -- Ojeda, Megan Sax and Michelle Coughanour -- with helping their teammates buy into her system.

"I was their third coach in four years, and they could have easily said, 'Great. Here we go again,' " Davis said. "But they've been absolute leaders."

Sax welcomed the change in leadership.

"Last year, everyone was more worried about themselves than about what the team needed," Sax said. "The main thing this year is it's all about the team. And having female coaches, we can take a lot more criticism from them. They know how we work, how to push us to be better."

Ojeda liked the thought of who was taking over the team.

"This couldn't have been better," she said. "To have two of the most respected coaches in the area, especially Debbie with her past. I thought this would be a real good year."

How the unlikely duo of Davis and Roueche came together started back in the summer of 1996, when Davis was a senior at Kamiakin and Roueche had just taken the Kennewick job.

Davis played for a tournament team in Las Vegas and Roueche joined as an assistant under Darlene Harris. These two fiery personalities hit it off right away.

"I just dished it right back at her," Davis said. "We're two strong personalities who speak our minds and respect each other."

Roueche hadn't coached in the high school ranks since leaving Kennewick in 2001 to join her former college coach Mike Divilbiss, who'd moved from Lewis-Clark State to Idaho. She left five years later, unsure when or if she'd return to coaching.

"At that level, basketball is 100 percent your life," Roueche said. "By that point, it was best for me to go, and best for the program at Idaho."

Davis tried to convince Roueche a couple times to join her staff at Southridge, but Roueche wasn't ready.

It took coaching her cousin's eighth-grade AAU team last winter, plus the lure of coaching at Richland, to finally convince Roueche to return for good.

"I wouldn't be just anybody's assistant," Roueche said. "Maybe Emily (Faurholt), Heather (Thoelke), one of the kids who played for me at Kennewick. And Kristen. That's about it.

"I knew that Richland had athletes and talent. This was a job with a lot of potential. And Kristen coming here, that interested me."

The Art Dawald Gym walls have reverberated ever since.

"Who's louder?" Sax repeated, smiling. "I would say Debbie. Kristen, when she's really mad, it's like, OK. But Debbie, she's just Debbie. I remember seeing her at Idaho when she was coaching Stephanie (Sax's older sister). She's actually toned it down a little."

Roueche and Davis also are trying to tone down expectations a bit. Richland is in the mix of teams that could emerge from what is shaping up as a wide-open Eastern Region.

"I know (getting to state) is something they'd like to do," said Roueche, who led three Lions teams to state. "But it's a process. Year 1 is about building a program, changing the culture, becoming a family.

"They haven't been pushed like this before here. You just hope that in the first year, you haven't grinded them down too much by February."

Starting this weekend, they'll find out how this family holds together. The Bombers head into a grueling three-games-in-five-days stretch that features two ranked opponents.

"These next three games will be a great test for us," Davis said. "The battle for us has been consistent play. We'll need to bring it on both sides of the ball."