I think Stephenie Wheeler-Smith put it best: Wow!
The Cleveland girls basketball coach said it a few times describing the efforts of her players.
It’s a fitting way to sum up the Class 4A and 3A state girls basketball tournaments last Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
Wow! Wow! And Wow!
I thought I’d take one last look back….
I picked Mead to win the tournament, and it turns out I was right – even though I had Mount Rainier ranked No. 1 all season. And I would have loved to have seen the Rams – or one of the other Seattle-area teams – finish on top.
Nothing against teams from the other side of the state, or down South. It’s just always nice when the winner is within our circulation area! And it doesn’t happen as often as we’d like. Since Federal Way won in 1997 (and Kent-Meridian the year before that), we’ve had just four local winners in 4A – Roosevelt (2004), Garfield (2005), Kentwood (2009) and Auburn Riverside (2010).
I’m a big Brittany McPhee fan – she’s a fantastic player – and I figured she’d give Mount Rainier a chance in any game. She did. But I was afraid there might be a time when she wouldn’t be quite enough. There was. Against Mead.
Mount Rainier has some other very fine players, but – like most high-school kids – they’ve been inconsistent at times. McPhee scored 34 of the Rams’ 50 points in that semifinal game. Mead had three players combine for 51. And after the game coach Bob Bolam said his team needs to work on finding more reliable weapons, like Mead has.
Like Mount Rainier showed the next day in the first half of the third-place game against Lake Stevens, when they pulled out to a 29-17 lead. McPhee had just six of her eventual 25 points. It was 6-foot sophomore Emily Fiso with a team-leading eight points. Junior Katie Freeburg came off the bench for five points and Jordan McPhee had five as well. Plus Amber Guillot hit a three-pointer and Amanda Goucher had a big basket, too.
I remember thinking, if the team had played that way against Mead, maybe it would have been a different story.
I certainly don’t want to take anything away from the Panthers, who were very worthy champions. They had the best overall tournament and deserved the title.
The surprise team of the tournament was Arlington, which had a great run to the championship game. I had picked Lake Stevens to get there, even though the Eagles were No. 6 and Lake Stevens No. 9 in the final rankings. The Vikings had been on fire. But Arlington won that semifinal in overtime – one of the best games of the tournament.
Talk about big shots – Britney Pahukoa buried a clutch three at the buzzer to send that game into OT. And you saw just how important she was to Lake Stevens when she fouled out early in the extra period. They struggled without her. The Eagles prevailed behind the 23 points of freshman Jayla Russ. Senior Lindsay Brown sank a couple of key free throws down the stretch to help seal the win.
The 6-foot Russ was the best-looking frosh in the tournament, in my opinion, and gives Arlington hope for another playoff ride next season – despite losing Brown and sparkplug Krista Showalter, along with some other solid seniors.
The best-looking sophomore? I’d go with Gonzaga Prep’s Otiona Gildon, another 6-footer. She’s super-athletic and can be a handful. And teammate Laura Stockton, the 5-8 point guard, is a rock.
Of course, Inglemoor’s 6-4 Deja’ Strother has a big future, too, and she dominated at times, but was also in foul trouble a lot. Inglemoor has two other promising sophs in 6-1 Alex Hagen and 6-foot Jordana Price.
I like Fiso from Mount Rainier, too, along with 5-8 teammate Aqueelah Willaims, who was a bit hot-and-cold but has a big upside. Oh, and let’s not forget Mead’s 6-2 Sue Winger, who was impressive in the championship game.
So, which teams will be back in Tacoma next year? Barring injuries and other unforeseen circumstances, I expect Mead, Mount Rainier and Inglemoor to return, for starters.
Mead loses Jade Redmon, their best all-around player, but was young overall. Delaney Junkermier and Ashlyn Lewey are both 6-foot juniors who earned all-tournament honors along with Redmon – who likely would have been the tourney MVP if not for the huge numbers put up by Brittany McPhee.
Of course, the McPhee twins will get one last chance to lead Mount Rainier to its first title and get Fiso and Williams back as well. And I’ve mentioned those trio of Inglemoor sophs who should make the Vikings tough for the next two seasons, and there’s some other young talent, although they will miss Kelly Conroy and Chalayia Fuller.
What will the post-Pahukoa season be like for Lake Stevens? I haven’t mentioned Brooke, but she had a great tournament and she was all but unstoppable in the quarterfinal game against Kentwood. The Vikings had just two other seniors on their roster, so expect Randall Edens to put together another solid team.
Arlington graduates several key seniors, but can build on Russ as well as 6-foot junior Lyndsay Leatherman and 5-8 sophomore Jessica Ludwig.
I like Gonzaga’s chances with Gildon and Stockton, along with juniors Kayla Leland (5-5) and Hannah Caudill (5-6). Both juniors averaged around 10 points per game.
Kentwood went 0-2 at the Dome, but loses only two seniors and will return one of the area’s top juniors in 5-10 Sarah Toeaina, who probably would have been an all-tournament choice if the Conquerors had played one more game. They’ve got two other talented juniors in 5-11 Jenny Johnson and 5-9 Kate Kramer. And hopefully Alycea Delong, a 5-8 junior, will be back after missing all of this season following a knee injury. She started as a sophomore.
Skyline must rebuild after losing Haley Smith, Rachel Shim and Lacey Nicholson, to name a few, but have to solid juniors to start with in 6-1 Bryn deVita and 5-10 Shelby Kassuba.
Among the teams that didn’t make the quarterfinal cut, I like Lynnwood’s chances to bounce back big-time next season. And let’s all hope Kelli Kingma has an injury-free senior year in leading Jackson to Tacoma. You’ve got to think Issaquah and Woodinville will be in the picture again.
Keep Beamer on your radar the next couple of seasons, especially now that those young players got some valuable playoff experience. Emerald Ridge will have a shot with a healthy Riley Clarke.
Yelm graduates a lot, but Bellarmine Prep is usually in the hunt out of the Narrows League.
Skyview, the 2012 state champion, won another Greater St. Helen’s title with a very young lineup, and Union should have enough back to make another push.
On the other side of the state, Chiawana of Pasco should make another run with some young talent back. Davis of Yakima was the upset winner out of the Columbia Basin Big 9, and the team’s top scorers were all underclassmen. I honestly won’t know what to expect from those leagues until I start making my preseason calls in November.
I’ll stop there, although I’m sure I’m leaving some promising teams out.
Several weeks ago, Holy Names coach Lee Adams told me he wouldn’t be surprised to see Cleveland and Seattle Prep play for the state title, if the bracket aligned correctly.
It did, and they did.
I picked Cleveland as the champion and the Eagles lived up to the hype to cap an outstanding season. I missed on Seattle Prep, which certainly made that title game intriguing with a gutsy second-half comeback.
I believe it’s the first 3A girls championship game to ever go to OT (according to the program and WIAA website).
Hail to the Mighty Metro League once again!
I had penciled Wilson into the championship game against Cleveland. That was certainly not meant as a knock on Prep, which is a tournament regular. Wilson had been playing so well down the stretch and putting up bigger numbers.
Of course, the biggest question of the 3A tourney remains: Was that a three-pointer or not?
If you followed the 3A event at all, you know what I’m talking about. It was the shot of the tournament and came from Wilson’s Bethany Montgomery, who pivoted two or three times before burying a basket at the end of the fourth quarter in the semifinal game with Seattle Prep.
It was a long shot, but long enough with Wilson down by three? Pretty much everyone watching thought it was a three-pointer. Tie game. Overtime. But the officials huddled and ruled Montgomery’s toe was on the three-point line when she released the ball.
That left Prep ahead by one with less than a second to play. Senior Holly Tonry sealed the victory with two free throws (giving her Prep’s final seven points) after the technical assessed to Montgomery, who had taken off her jersey in disgust and thrown it down on the court.
It was a fantastic shot. I honestly couldn’t tell if it was a two or a three. One guy on press row a little closer to the play said he thought Montgomery’s foot was on the line. She later said she made sure she was behind the line – and I’ll tell you she was very apologetic and classy in interviews after that gut-wrenching loss.
Whether the call was right or wrong, you can’t react the way she did, and she realized that. These are, after all, life lessons sports are teaching young adults. Life certainly isn’t always fair.
I had someone e-mail me an enlarged photo, where Montgomery’s toe was clearly on the line. But there is no way to tell from the photo if she elevated from that point to release the ball. Or if, as she believes, she pivoted back one more time before taking the shot.
Bottom line is the call stood and the debate will continue. Remember, though, even if it was a three-pointer, it wouldn’t have given Wilson the victory. We could never be sure which team would have won in overtime.
And I don’t want to overshadow the whole rest of the tournament by dwelling on it anymore.
But I will say that I was impressed with the way Wilson bounced back the next day with a convincing, 51-30 victory over Bellevue in the third-place game. Coach Michelle Birge disciplined Montgomery for drawing the technical by sitting her for nearly the entire first half. She came off the bench in both the third and fourth quarters as well, and she visibly cheered her teammates on when not in the game.
It was an historic season for Wilson, which had never earned a state trophy before. The Rams’ only other in-state loss came against Cleveland on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Imagine being Seattle Prep and facing a Cleveland team you had lost two three times already – twice in the previous 22 days. Imagine being down by 16 points late in the first half.
Imagine not giving up, because the Panthers didn’t. They closed out the third quarter with a 12-0 run to get back in it and took a 37-36 lead with just over three minutes to play in regulation. It was 38-36 Prep after a free throw by Nicole Hall with 1:21 on the clock.
Cleveland went scoreless for more than five minutes. Finally, junior MyMy Ladd tied it with 20 seconds on the clock, and we went to overtime. Ladd again hit the tying basket with 1:21 to go in regulation, then junior Asiya Davis came up with a putback – her only points of the night – for what proved to be the game-winner with 18 seconds on the clock.
The Eagles needed one more big play and they got it from 6-foot sophomore Joyce Harrell, who came up with a clean block on 6-2 senior Michaela Carew with just 1.8 seconds to go. We had a great photo of that block. If you missed it, it’s in the photo gallery here.
Harrell has a big future and we found out just how tough she was in that game. Come to find out, Harrell broke the knuckle on that right hand when it was kicked in the first quarter. She never told her coaches.
Carew was the primary reason Prep got back into that game, finishing with 19 points and 13 rebounds. One of the worst parts of this job is having to talk to crying teenagers after they’ve suffered one of the toughest losses of their young lives. I stopped Carew as she was walking toward the locker-room and she showed maturity beyond her years, talking about the closeness of the Seattle Prep team and desire to win for one another. And then she complimented the Eagles on the way they played.
I was happy to see her make the all-tournament first team. Cleveland junior Makala Roper struggled with her shot in the championship game, but had a great tournament overall and was voted MVP. Donniesha Webber, the team’s lone senior and an unsung hero, also earned first-team honors.
The one injustice probably was that junior Alexia Mefi didn’t garner all-tourney honors. She keyed Saturday’s victory with 15 points and 13 rebounds, but had not scored well in Cleveland’s first two games of the tournament. The media votes on the all-tournament teams by halftime of the championship game, due to story deadlines.
Prep had a pair of second-team choices in Tonry, who had a memorable tournament after an injury-riddled career, and junior Mary Ann Santucci. Santucci is a player and someone the Panthers can build around next season.
It was a solid fifth-place finish for young Bellevue, although no team likes to go 0-2 after reaching the semifinals, like the Wolverines did. They played Cleveland tough for three quarters before falling short, then came out flat against that determined Wilson squad.
They’ll be back, but I’ll get more into that in a minute.
Kamiakin of Kennewick won two straight after the quarterfinal loss to Seattle Prep, and that felt really good after the 0-2 dive the Braves took the year before after coming into the tournament unbeaten. We saw glimpses of the kind of player 5-10 senior Courtney Nelson is, but it was 5-7 junior Sira Toure who stood out in the two victories.
University was happy to take home some hardware, finishing sixth, and it was a fitting sendoff for 5-11 senior Kayleigh Valley, a great all-around player.
The Titans had a pair of good-looking freshmen – 5-9 Kkaitlin Pannell and 5-8 Brooke Bailey. Things might have been different for them if 5-8 junior Cassie Shillam hadn’t torn an ACL in mid-December.
Glacier Peak and Mercer Island went home empty-handed, but made remarkable runs to reach the Tacoma Dome. More on those two in a bit.
The top freshman in the tournament had to be Bellevue’s 6-foot Shelby Cansler, who was no secret after being named the KingCo 3A/2A MVP. She had some great moments, as did fellow 6-foot frosh Tatiana Streun. Watch out for these guys next year!
Oh, another frosh I liked was Mercer Island’s Jess Blakeslee, a 5-9 guard. The Islanders finished 21-7 overall and let’s not forget how far that team came after going 5-15 the season before.
As for the top sophomore? Harrell from Cleveland comes to mind, and the Eagles have another good one in 5-7 guard Jayde Christopher. Bellevue’s 5-9 Mandy Steward stood out at times along with 5-9 Sadie Mensing from Glazier Peak and 5-5 Holly Ellison from Kamiakin. MI’s 5-8 Julia Blumenstein had a big final game and Wilson’s 5-10 Violet Morrow is one to keep an eye one.
The top returning teams for 2013-14?
If I did the rankings right now, Cleveland would be No. 1 with all but Webber back (again, barring injuries or other unexpected losses). And Bellevue just might be No. 2. Remember, the Wolverines did not have a senior on their roster. In fact, they list just three juniors. The rest are all sophomores and freshmen.
Kamiakin will be in the preseason top-10, maybe the top-five even.
Seattle Prep? Never count out a Michelle Hall team – especially with a savvy player like Santucci back. But the Panthers will have a lot of holes to fill.
Wilson has been carried mostly by Montgomery and 6-1 Tia Briggs, another very talented senior, but Birge said she believes the Rams will be very competitive again next season.
University is sound year after year. Even though Valley graduates, there are several key players returning and I won’t be surprised if the Titans crash Tacoma again.
Glacier Peak graduates some key seniors, but can build around 6-4 junior Nicole Fausey. Mercer Island was young overall, but must replace do-it-all Kris Brackmann, among others.
Everett just missed a trip to the quarterfinals and should be a top-10 team with the Rielly sisters. Stanwood returns everyone except Rachel Swartz, so there’s another WesCo contender.
Holy Names was one basket away from another trip to Tacoma and was very young. Coach Lee Adams does a great job with that program, so I’d expect the Cougars to be back after a two-year hiatus.
It will be interesting to see how Prairie recovers after failing to make the Final Eight for the first time since 1997 and losing its top two players to graduation.
I know plenty of others deserve mention – Kelso, Bonney Lake and Lakes were all regional qualifiers – but I’m running out of steam and I want to give a quick shout-out to a few of the area teams who took home trophies from the other state tournaments.
Class 2A on down
First of all, congratulations to the champions – Mark Morris (2A), Brewster (1A), Reardan (2B) and Colton (1B).
But I really want to give a round of applause to Renton. A standing ovation, in fact. Led by junior Taylor Farris (and I hope to write more about her next season, for sure!), the Indians came home with the third-place trophy in the 2A tournament. That’s quite an accomplishment, especially since it was their first time back in the Final Eight since 1997.
Cedarcrest went 0-2 in the tourney, but still enjoyed the best season in school history.
In 1A, King’s earned some hardware by taking fifth. Cascade Christian finished sixth. And Shoreline Christian placed sixth in the 1B tourney.
It was a fun season and there was a lot of great basketball played last weekend, for sure.