Brittany Cotsford remembers seeing big cheering sections at Columbia High girls basketball games growing up.
Seeing the screaming and adoring fans, she always wanted that for her own team.
It took a few years of her high school career in Burbank, but Cotsford along with fellow seniors Harley McBride, Haley Martineau and Vanessa Dorsey have helped bring the Coyotes program back to state prominence.
“Our school is a lot more excited,” Cotsford said. “A couple of years ago, we didn’t have a cheering section, so it was really cool to see them cheering for us (at the district tournament).”
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The reason for that excitement in Burbank is that the Coyotes are in the Class 1A regional playoffs, just one win from state. Columbia (17-5) faces Chelan at 6 p.m. Friday at Central Valley High in Spokane Valley.
While the Coyotes have struggled the last two seasons, they used to be a fixture at the state tournament.
Columbia went to state nine consecutive years, taking second in 2008. While this group has never played in the state tournament, they were able to watch from afar growing up in the community.
“We talk about that tradition a lot,” Columbia coach John Muchlinski said. “We want to leave that legacy. They have embraced that. They want to be that group that starts the legacy, the strong tradition. They have worked hard to get where we are today.
“They have provided that strong leadership to get that tradition back to where they were before.”
It hasn’t been easy, though.
The Coyotes failed to advance to the District 5 tournament the last two seasons. They tied for the final playoff berth in 2011, but lost a play-in game to Connell. Last year they finished a game out.
“It used to be that it was expected that we would go to state, so it was weird not having that be the expectation,” Martineau said. “People told us we’d be good (this year), but it was a nonverbal agreement we had that we wanted to bring the tradition back.”
And the team certainly seems to be moving in that direction, though it didn’t look like it would happen early on.
Against top foes early in the season they didn’t play very well, losing to Granger and getting embarrassed at Connell.
But the team kept working hard and improving, eventually picking up big wins against Granger and White Swan on back-to-back nights.
They also played much better in the second game against Connell, leading by double digits at halftime. Even though the Eagles eventually won that game, it provided the Coyotes with the confidence that they could compete with the state’s best.
“We compared ourselves with them,” McBride said. “When we played them (at home) it was a great feeling to know we could hang with them.”
The Coyotes ended up second in the SCAC East behind Connell, but won the first two games of the district tournament to reach the title game.
They lost 74-50 to Zillah in that game, but have been trying to shake it off since then.
“Looking back, we had tough losses to Connell and Liberty Christian,” Martineau said, “and we bounced back with big wins. Losing creates an inner fire about how much we want it and won’t get mowed over again.”
It certainly seemed evident in practice this week, as the team was in high spirits despite the rough loss.
“We’ve just tried to stay really positive and not focus on the negative,” Dorsey said. “Trying to keep each other lifted up.”
If they can bounce back with another win, then this time the payoff will be a trip to the SunDome and the Class 1A state tournament, which would be a dream come true.
“It’s a pretty good feeling — like how my freshman year was,” McBride said of the Columbia team that took second at state. “I feel like we are in their shoes and we are leaving behind a great example.”