Prior to tip-off of Wednesday’s Wesco North opener at Snohomish, Monroe first-year coach Rodney Walker had to do a double-take. He looked over at Panthers coach Ken Roberts and recalled thinking ‘I was just at Sultan. Now I’m facing the Class 4A state runner-up.’
“It was like ‘Whoa!’, said Walker when I chatted with him this afternoon.
Walker had a pair of aces up his sleeve, however, in the Bearcats’ attempt to win in their rival’s gym for the first time since Jan. 23, 2004. That was also the season Monroe (with eventual Pac-10 players Kirsten Thompson and Sarah Morton) finished fifth at state.
First off, this isn’t a vintage Snohomish team. The Panthers lost virtually everyone — including Katie Benson (SPU), Ally Schmitt (Montana State) and Karley Lampman (Portland State) from last year’s 24-3 outfit.
Secondly, in order for any team to beat Snohomish on its own home court — even in a down year, they must be able to defend. Fortunately for Walker, that’s his specialty.
And fortunately for the Bearcats (2-1, 1-0), they did that well enough to knock off the Panthers (2-1, 0-1) 46-43). Snohomish hadn’t lost a home league game since Jan. 8, 2008. “We feel really fortunate to come out of there with a victory, because Ken did a great job of kind of keeping us under wraps,” Walker said.
Junior point guard Suzanna Ohlsen, was held to 12 points (eight below her team-leading average entering the game) while often facing a box-and-1 defense. But senior Sammi Clark (15 points) and sophomore Alyssa Brazel (12 points) stepped up for the Bearcats, whose lone loss was by three points to visiting Eastlake on Monday.
Monroe athletic director Brett Wille isn’t surprised with Walker’s impact and his ability to get the most out of his players. “He’s done an outstanding job and built a great staff,” Wille said. “The thing I’ve noticed the most, though, is that he’s really got the kids buying in — especially on the defensive end.”
It’s there that Walker wants the Bearcats — who haven’t qualified for state since 2005, when they appeared for the fourth time in five years — to be second to none. This all-out, pressing style is similar to Nolan Richardson’s teams at Arkansas. “I figure if they did 40 minutes of hell, we’re going to do 32 minutes,” he said.
Next up for Monroe is a game Friday at Everett, followed by Monday’s home showdown against Lake Stevens.