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'She holds the boys accountable': Quinault woman leads Muckleshoot boys basketball team to 1B tournament

Feb. 29—Dora Davis' team of high school basketball players huddled around her in a locker room at the Arena Wednesday as she worked the play chart during halftime.

Like many coaches, she is calm and focused, but draws on passionate vigor when she needs to.

"At the beginning of the game we were executing, they were getting tired, we were able to push," Davis told them. "Now they are doing that to us because we're not working on the offensive end. Be patient, take care of the ball."

Davis' coaching differs from the norm in one key way, though: She is one of the few women to coach boys high school basketball in Washington, leading the Muckleshoot Tribal School to the State 1B tournament in Spokane this week.

"She holds the boys accountable," Muckleshoot Athletic Director Steven Gray, a former Gonzaga basketball player, said of Davis, who is also the K-8 physical education teacher at Muckleshoot Tribal School.

The Cusick Panthers, who won the championship two years ago, were favored to win with a No. 6 seeding.

The Muckleshoot Kings, from the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation in Auburn, Washington, were the underdog and seeded No. 11.

"Be smart, play together," Davis told her players before tipoff Wednesday morning before they played Cusick in the loser-out opening round of the tournament for the state's smallest schools.

Muckleshoot started off strongly, scoring the first basket. The Kings played tight defense with aggressive offense. Early on, they led 14-2.

But Cusick shrank that margin by halftime and took the lead in the second half, making up the difference with a string of 3-pointers and a better shot percentage.

The final score was Cusick 64-54.

The boys were flushed with disappointment.

"You guys have nothing to be sad about," Davis said in the locker room after the game.

They are a younger, less-experienced team. For most of them, it was their first time playing in the state tournament. Handling that pressure will come with more experience, she said. The main thing they need to work on is communicating on the court.

"When I came into this job, I knew you were going to be good, but you exceeded my expectations," Davis said.

"I want to thank you all for believing in me and believing in what I saw in you and the growth you all made."

Davis watched the boys mature over the season as their behavior improved.

Cedar Korndorfer, a lead guard in his junior year, said the game was a learning experience.

"Good to get into a big arena like this and play at a high level of basketball competing with all the best teams," Korndorfer said. "We'll bounce back next year."

Davis, a member of the Quinault Indian Nation, played basketball for Columbia Basin College and Taholah High School, another 1B school on the Quinault Reservation. She switched to coaching the Muckleshoot boys team this year after coaching the girls for nine seasons.

Gray got to know Davis last year through their shared love of the game.

In her role as a PE teacher, she has known the boys on her team for a long time and has watched them grow.

"She keeps the message simple for them and focuses more on their mentality, how to carry themselves through adversity," Gray said.

The team won the Sea-Tac League championship, and Davis was named the league's coach of the year.

Gray didn't think it was unusual to hire her. But she's the only woman coaching boys in the league, and one of the few across the state, according to Andy Barnes, assistant executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.

The biggest question, Gray said, was whether the boys accept her.

Her fiery, no-nonsense attitude quickly won them over.

"She is a hooper at heart," Gray said. "She talks the language of basketball and has the ability to connect with them."

"Dora is a really great coach," Korndorfer said. "It's a big honor for her to come in her first year and take us to state."

Davis' biggest supporters are her parents, John and Virginia Brings Yellow. They sit next to her courtside, keeping stats.

"I'm very proud of her for everything she's done," Virginia Brings Yellow said.

Coming from a different tribe to coaching the boys varsity team, the school's administration took a chance on her, Virginia Brings Yellow said.

"Basketball has been part of our lives forever," John Brings Yellow said.

He said it can be hard to stay quiet during the games while scorekeeping.

"We have to be neutral," he said. "It's tough; you want the best for these guys. They accomplished a lot just to get here."

Davis said she loved coaching the boys this year.

They showed up every day and hustled.

"It took them a while to buy in to the way I run my program," she said.

But they soon realized they all wanted the same thing.

"They were committed," Davis said, "not just to me, but to each other."

After defeating Muckleshoot, Cusick will advance to play fourth-seeded DeSales in the quarterfinals Thursday morning.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper's managing editor.