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The latest news and analysis on high-school sports around the Seattle area

January 31, 2013 at 10:51 AM

Post-Ups: Girls hoop notes on University Prep, Renton and FW’s Raven Benton, plus big scorers, playoff links and more

Typically, I use this blog notebook to highlight a variety of local girls basketball teams.

In this edition of Post-Ups, however, there’s a new twist. In addition to looking at University Prep’s unique season and Renton’s continued rise, I thought I’d feature a noteworthy player. And one of the first ones who came to mind was Federal Way senior Raven Benton, so you can read more about how she developed into the area’s No. 1 scorer.

And of course there will be the usual recap of recent big games, the list of high scorers and some marquee matchups.

As a bonus, I’ve added a couple of injury updates and links to some of the playoff brackets.

Raven Benton soars for Federal Way Eagles

Raven Benton couldn’t buy a break in what was supposed to be her break-out summer.

After a solid junior season at Federal Way High School, the 5-foot-10 guard was drawing interest from a variety of college programs, including Oregon State, WSU, Santa Clara, Pepperdine and Utah.

All she had to do was follow up with good performances at the showcase tournaments with her YEA summer team. But a series of injuries got in the way. Benton sprained her left ankle not once, but twice, and dislocated her left pinky finger. She never got the chance to play at 100 percent.

“It was the biggest frustration of my life,” she said. “This summer was really important for me. It was my last summer playing AAU. I got hurt and people stopped looking at me.”

Well, they’d better be looking now. Benton is the No. 1 scorer in the Greater Seattle area with 508 points in 19 games – one point ahead of Mount Rainier junior Brittany McPhee, last year’s Gatorade State Player of the Year. That’s 26.7 points per game for both.

Benton also averages 11.8 rebounds, 3.7 steals and 2.6 assists for the 10th-ranked Eagles.

“For me, it’s a no-brainer she should be getting a lot of looks,” coach Josh DeYoe said. “But she’s not getting as many as I would expect and she has no offers.”

The interest has picked up a bit, Benton said. She came into the season determined to jump back on the radar.

“After I got hurt, I just rebuilt myself,” she said. “I knew I was going to have to step up and be bigger this year.”

Not just for herself, but for her team, which had no other returning starters. And amid everything she does on the court, the biggest improvement she’s shown may well be in her leadership.

“Her leadership qualities have been impressive this year, especially considering where she came from last year,” DeYoe said.

Darah Huertas-Vining was the clear leader of last year’s team and the two had played together for a long time.

When Benton enrolled at Federal Way as a freshman, however, she was forced to play junior varsity. She had moved from Tacoma and lost an eligibility hearing. She averaged 18 points per game for DeYoe, who was the JV coach until this season, and likely would have been the first player off the bench for a talented varsity team.

“Her development over the past four years has been tremendous,” DeYoe said.

As a sophomore, Benton was a key part of the team that lost the 4A championship game to Lewis and Clark of Spokane, averaging just under 10 points per game. Last year, she scored better than 15 a night.

She opened the 2012-13 campaign with 27 against Auburn Mountainview and followed with 38 against Rogers of Puyallup. She’s scored 20 or more in all but three games, and has had seven outings with 30 or more – despite a variety of gimmick defenses.

Benton enjoys getting her teammates involved and often opens games with a pass-first mentality. But when the Eagles need her to score, she usually scores.

Helping her team win is the primary goal. And winning back those college suitors is motivation, too.

“It’s why I’ve stepped up my game so much,” Benton said. “I want to show people I’m 100 percent now and I can do it.”

Things are looking up at University Prep

University Prep has a proud tradition in girls soccer.

In girls basketball, not so much. But the Pumas hope to change that this season.

The small, private school captured its second 1A state title in girls soccer last fall, also winning in 2004. Last year’s team placed third.

Check U-Prep’s state history in girls basketball, and you’ll see there is none. But this year’s team has a legitimate shot at being the first to reach the Big Dance – although coach Kyle Lawhead said his players aren’t getting ahead of themselves, despite their 16-2 record and No. 9 ranking in the latest Associated Press poll.

“This is a new experience for them,” he said. “They definitely know as the season goes on, the level of competition gets higher and higher. There hasn’t been a lot of talk about state. They’ve been really good about taking one game at a time.”

The Pumas have already wrapped up their first Emerald City championship at 12-0. The last time they won a conference title, according to Lawhead, was when they were in the SeaTac league back in 1996.

Lawhead is in his eighth year with the program, the fourth as head coach. The year before that, apparently, there were just six girls who had turned out, according to the coach.

“It’s been a big transformation,” he said, noting that former head coach Marla Quesnell played a big role.

U-Prep was 1-35 between the 2003-04 and ’04-05 seasons, then won five games the following year. The Pumas reached the Emerald City playoffs in 2006-07 and actually enjoyed a winning season, barely, at 11-10. Then came four more sub-.500 campaigns, including the first two with Lawhead as head coach.

But last year’s squad reached the Tri-District tournament and wound up 12-10.

And now this.

Lawhead admits part of the success in league play is due to the absence of Bellevue Christian and Cedar Park Christian, which left to join the Nisqually League after traditionally living at the top of the Emerald City.

But this team is good, and young. There are just two seniors on the roster and the leading scorer is a junior, 5-6 guard Audrey Western who averages 13.5 points (and six steals) per game. And she has plenty of help as six others average between five and eight points.

“There’s not just one or two people scoring, it’s pretty even,” Lawhead said.

And much of it starts with the Pumas’ smothering press. They average 27 turnovers per game, which the coach says has been key to this year’s success. They are allowing less than 20 points an outing. That is due in part to some weak competition – two opponents have failed to score in double-digits.

U-Prep’s only losses have been by a combined three points (39-37 to Charles Wright and 37-36 to Touchet. They’ve currently won eight straight.

Renton continues to make rapid strides

Tim White isn’t overly impressed with Renton’s 13-0 Seamount League record. Now, their 17-2 overall mark is another matter.

The coach is the first to admit that the Seamount is down this season, even more so than last year, when the Indians went 14-0 to with the league title for the first time since who knows when (I don’t, sorry).

But this year’s team, currently ranked No. 9 in Class 2A, is 4-2 in nonleague play, losing only to Holy Names (ranked No. 7 in 3A) and River Ridge (No. 10 in 2A) – and later avenged that loss to River Ridge. There have been wins over Garfield, Eastlake and Spanaway Lake, all 4A teams.

Last season, the Indians were 1-4 in nonleague games, beating Yelm and losing to Holy Names, River Ridge (the teams only met once), Spanaway Lake and Port Angeles.

It was like they weren’t quite ready for prime time. They made a solid playoff run, but ultimately lost to W.F. West in the regional round to finish one game short of the Final Eight – a place Renton hasn’t been since 1987. That year, the Indians reached the 4A championship game before losing to a Garfield team led by the legendary Joyce Walker.

White purposely put together those tough nonleague schedules and was buoyed by the 52-42 victory over River Ridge last month after an earlier 46-36 loss.

“River Ridge was a gauge of what’s to come,” he said, meaning the level of competition Renton will see in the playoffs. “That’s where the rubber meets the road. We’ll see where we are.”

The team’s success wasn’t a given this season. Sure, they have one of the area’s top scorers back in 5-11 junior Taylor Farris. But they lost several key players from last year’s group, including point guard Priscilla Tuiasosopo.

But Jordan Armstrong has stepped into that role after primarily playing the two guard last season. And this year’s group has more overall size and strength.

Farris, of course, is a key factor. She not only is scoring at a 23-point clip, but regularly fills up a stat sheet in other areas, averaging 9.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 4.8 steals and 4.8 blocks.

“She’s doing a lot of other things besides scoring,” White said.

Farris scores a lot off transition and has a solid mid-range jumper, according to the coach. He said the biggest improvement has been in her accuracy as she is shooting better than 50 percent from the field.

This is Farris’ third year on varsity, but it’s the first time she has been the league’s top player. She was in the shadow of former Seamount greats Aminah Williams (Kennedy Catholic) and Airashay Rogers (Hazen) the past two seasons.

“Now is her time,” White said. “This year, she’s taken another big step.”

And he believes she has unlimited potential.

“She can go as far as she wants to go,” White said. “It’s up to her.”

The same might be said of the team overall. White said he challenges his players to be the best they can be. They have their sights set on the Yakima SunDome, site of the 2A state tournament.

“This year’s group is playing more together than last year,” White said. “This year, we are playing within our limitations….I want to believe we can get there, I do believe it. The girls just have to pull it together and go forward, and I know they will.”

In case you missed it …

I had to look twice at this score from Wednesday night: Shorewood 64, Stanwood 39. The Spartans (17-3) came into the game ranked No. 5 and had not lost to a Class 3A team all season. They were riding an 11-game win streak. And the once-hot Thunderbirds had lost three in a row. Looks like they’re heating up again.

And kudos to Beamer, which knocked off Puyallup (No. 6 in 4A) on Tuesday, 62-45, which clinched at least a share of the school’s first SPSL 4A South title at No. 1 playoff seed. Puyallup’s only two losses have come against the Titans.

In KingCo 4A, Issaquah got an important win over Eastlake Wednesday, 60-43. That assures the Eagles (14-5, 10-4) of second place in the Crown Division behind No. 9 Skyline (16-4, 12-2). It also dropped Eastlake (10-9, 9-4) into a second-place tie in the Crest Division with Woodinville (15-4, 9-4). But the Wolves have beaten Woodinville twice and likely will have the second seed into the playoffs. No. 7 Inglemoor (16-2, 11-2) has the Crest title in hand.

Links to playoff brackets

The fields are set for the Northwest District 4A and 3A tournaments, and you can find them here. Links to the yet-to-be-filled-in regional brackets are available there, too. They do a nice job of updating everything, so save this link.

They haven’t filled in any of the blanks yet, but you can find the schedule for the SPSL 4A tournament (for girls and boys) here. And for future reference, the West Central 4A District bracket can be found here.

You can locate all of the brackets for the tournaments involing KingCo 4A, KingCo 3A and Metro here (and you’ll also find links there to brackets for some of the smaller school post-season tournaments involving District 2 teams).

For the West Central 3A and 2A Sub-District and District brackets, go here.

Injury updates

Kendall Foster, the senior guard from Auburn Riverside who had made a remarkable comeback after undergoing ACL surgery just last August, likely will not play again this season. She went down again in last week’s game against top-ranked Mount Rainier.

Foster, the team’s second-leading scorer at 12 points per game, had an MRI that fortunately did not reveal any additional ligament damage, but showed two stress fractures, one above and one below the knee, according to her mother, Shelley Christie. Christie said Kendall is out for at least three weeks, meaning the Ravens would have to make a deep playoff run for her to return.

And Emerald Ridge sophomore Riley Clarke had her season come to an end last week as she reinjured her knee against Spanaway Lake (she had 14 points and 14 rebounds in that game). She averaged 23.1 points in 14 games for the Jaguars, who are a totally different team without her.

The drive to 25

Here are the players I found who scored 25 points or mover over the past week, with apologies to any I might have missed:

Imani Wright, Rainier Beach – exploded for 43 of the Vikings’ 48 points in a loss to Bainbridge Friday.

Olivia Ho, Muckleshoot Tribal – poured in 36 to key a 62-54 win over Puget Sound Adventist last Thursday and followed Saturday with 30 against Lummi (55-10 victory); she’s averaging 26.2.

Beth Carlson, Archbishop Murphy – went off for a season-high 33 against Coupeville Friday (78-42 win).

Aulola Kinemoa, Puget Sound Adventist – pumped in 31 in Tuesday’s 61-45 loss to Mount Rainier Lutheran.

Rodericka Ware, Lakes – notched 31 to lead the Lancers past Bonney Lake Tuesday, 60-51.

Sarah Toeaina, Kentwood – logged 29 against Auburn Tuesday (78-36 triumph).

Brittany McPhee, Mount Rainier – scored 28 in Friday’s 73-58 victory over Auburn Riverside.

Kennedy Hobert, White River – supplied 28 in a one-sided victory over Orting.

Grace Kenyon, Bainbridge – dumped in 27 in the Spartans’ win over Rainier Beach and followed with 26 as they beat Chief Sealth Wednesday, 64-46.

Audrey Western, University Prep – piled up a season-high 27 in a 73-43 win over Forest Ridge last Thursday.

Makayla Roper, Cleveland – buried a season-high 26 as the Eagles rolled past Lakeside, 67-30.

Raven Benton, Federal Way – hit another 25 Friday, but the Eagles came up short against Puyallup, 56-46.

Allison Walean, Puget Sound Adventist – canned 25 in the loss to Muckleshoot Tribal.

Adiya Jones-Smith, Tulalip Heritage – recorded 25 in a 60-35 win over Grace Academy Friday.

Kaycee Creech, Cascade Christian – scored 25 in Friday’s 62-38 victory over Charles Wright.

Marquee games

Three games jump out at me on Friday’s schedule:

No. 7 Inglemoor at Woodinville, 6:30 p.m. – The Falcons won the first time around, 56-46, and made their way back into the 4A rankings before losing back-to-back games last week to Issaquah and Eastlake. The Vikings were 10-0 and ranked No. 3 in the state. They lost the following game to Issaquah, but are 6-0 since.

No. 10 Federal Way at Beamer, 7 p.m. – Sure, the Titans have the division title in hand, and the Eagles can finish no better than the third seed (they’ve lost twice to Puyallup). But the rivalry between these two Federal Way District teams has heated up. The Eagles pulled a 52-51 upset on their home court three weeks ago to book Beamer from the rankings and land a top-10 spot themselves. The Titans have beaten Federal Way only one time in school history.

No. 2 Cleveland at No. 7 Holy Names, 7:30 p.m. – Both teams carry impressive 17-2 records and meet for the first time of the season. Cleveland has not lost to an in-state team and knocked off Wilson, then ranked No. 1 in 3A, just last week. Holy Names owes its two losses to No. 4 Seattle Prep.

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