The Sweet Sixteen!
Four more victories!
That’s all it takes for one girls basketball team to win it all. And I’ll devote this edition of my weekly girls basketball blog to my thoughts on just who those teams might be in Class 4A, 3A and 2A.
I’ll be posting game-by-game regional preview capsules tomorrow (which is partly why I have to keep this piece short today – I’ve got a lot of work yet to do!).
I have to admit that I miss the old format for the state girls basketball tournaments, as exhausting as they were to cover. There is no comparison to the feel of a regional game in a high-school gym to one played in the Tacoma Dome.
But I understand some of the reasoning, especially the cost-driven ones. And especially when I look at some of the crowds (or lack there of) at the T-Dome. Some teams bring big fan bases, others not-so-much – even when they’re in the winner’s bracket! And it is almost embarrassing at times to see the lack of support in the stands for a loser’s bracket game.
I’ve seen fans fill the seats for a boys game, and then get up and leave before the girls team from the same school takes the floor. That’s cold.
OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now! Point is – get out and support your team – YOUR SCHOOL – this weekend and next.
So, who will survive to the Elite Eight? And who will win it all? Let’s take a look.
I’ve never been a fan of picking winners, and I’m a big believer in that old anything-can-happen adage, or almost anything, especially when it comes to high-school sports.
But I’ll take a stab at who I think will be in Tacoma next week (just going in order of how the regional games are listed by the WIAA) – Moses lake, Inglemoor, Gonzaga Prep, Lynnwood, Mount Rainier, Skyview, Beamer and Chiawana.
There certainly could be some “surprises” – and there are at least a couple of the regional games I could see going either way.
Actually, the only shocker to me would be if Davis beat Gonzaga Prep, favored by some to win it all. I like GP a lot and definitely could see them finishing on top.
I actually don’t see a clear overall favorite, although I’ve had Lynnwood ranked No. 1 all season. The Royals could wind up there, indeed. I consider Mount Rainier and Inglemoor major contenders, too. And Skyview is tough.
Newport? Don’t count the Knights out against Skyview. They’ve played some awfully good defense at times this season – and lost just 47-46 to Inglemoor in the KingCo championship game last week, outscoring the Vikings 20-14 in the final quarter.
Edmonds-Woodway took a long road to get to the regional round, surviving three loser-out games. The Warriors have some weapons – three players average 10 or more – but Mount Rainier has Stanford-bound Brittany McPhee, who is in the running for a third straight Gatorade Player of the Year award.
McPhee can put the Rams on her back, and has many times (she scored 33 in the West Central District title game against Beamer) – but they are a better team when she doesn’t have to and others must continue to step up if they are going to have a chance to finally win it all after a pair of third-place finishes.
Probably the toughest 4A regional matchup is Beamer-Arlington, in my book, and this should sound familiar. The same two teams met at this point last season. The Titans were a bit beat up and the Eagles were just hitting their stride. Arlington won, 50-42, and went on to reach the championship game before losing to Mead of Spokane.
Once again, the Titans aren’t at full strength. They took a hit in the district semifinals when Bria Rice chipped her collarbone in a collision with another player, ending her season. Quinessa Caylao-Do is at about 85 percent with a strained Achilles, according to coach Corey Alexander, but at least she should be in the lineup.
And after a mid-January slump that saw them lose three straight, the Eagles won seven in a row before losing the Northwest District final to Lynnwood, 46-34.
Tough to see the season end for one of those teams – and I plan to be there Saturday to see how it pans out. I think Megan Huff and Nia Alexeander give Beamer the edge.
Inglemoor has been a force lately (despite the close call against Newport), winning 18 straight. Puyallup hasn’t played particularly well in big games (including losses to Beamer (twice), Kentwood and Skyview) and must reverse that trend to have a chance in this one.
Kentwood is another of those up-and-down teams where you’re just never quite sure what you’re going to get. Sarah Toeaina is a fine player (nearly 20 points per game) and the Conquerors have other weapons, too. They had a nice six-game win streak stopped by Bellarmine Prep in the West Central quarterfinals, 49-45. Their 32-29 victory over Kentridge to clinch a regional berth concerns me a bit, offensively. Especially since Chiawana can score in bunches.
From a local standpoint, it would be great to see the Conquerors play at their best and have a chance in that one.
Speaking of Bellarmine Prep – I was impressed with the Lions in their semifinal game against Beamer, which they lost in overtime. They then lost to Skyview in the consolation final. Are they a match for Lynnwood? I wouldn’t think so, but then I didn’t expect the Royals to come up short at regionals last year against Kentwood, so you never know.
Lynnwood is hungry, though, and the better all-around team, I believe. So I’ll expect to see that squad in Tacoma.
Moses Lake is a bit of an unknown, playing in that small Big Nine Conference. But I’d have to give the Chiefs an edge over Kentridge – which survived an overtime game against Tahoma to qualify.
Who comes out as the 4A state champion? Don’t make me choose! I’d love to see the trophy come back to the Seattle area for the first time since 2009-10, when Auburn Riverside won it. The McFee twins have comes so close at Mount Rainier, it would be a fitting end to their prep careers. And how smug could I be if Lynnwood started and finished No. 1? I almost forgot to mention Inglemoor, which seems to be playing as well as anyone.
But Gonzaga Prep just might be the one to beat.
Can anyone beat Cleveland?
I’m honestly not sure, and some believe the Eagles might be the best team in the state, regardless of classification (they have beaten Lynnwood, remember!).
But, again, these are high-school athletes and last year I certainly didn’t expect them to have to go to overtime to beat Seattle Prep in the championship game – but they did.
Liberty has had a fine season, and upsets happen (remember the Patriots’ win in girls soccer over heavily favored Columbia River last fall, and then their run to the state title???). However, this is the one 3A regional game where I see the scales tipped heavily in one direction.
Which means I see lots of possibilities in the other matchups. Several could go either way, in my book.
But, to just get it out of the way, I’ll go with these best-guesses for the Elite Eight (again, in order of the games on the WIAA website) – Mountlake Terrace, Bellevue, Cleveland, Sunnyside, Glacier Peak, Bishop Blanchet, Wilson and Kamiakin.
I’ve got to move on and get some other work done, so this section will be considerably shorter (no slight meant).
I think the toughest pairing in 3A is Prairie-Blanchet, which had been ranked 2-3 for some time until Blanchet lost in the Sea-King District semifinals to Bellevue.
The Braves didn’t have leading scorer Jadyn Bush for most of that game as she suffered a bad ankle sprain. But they bounced back to beat Mercer Island for the No. 3 seed and coach Bryan Willison said yesterday Bush’s rehab has been going well. He also said her status was uncertain and that if she does play, it might be on a limited basis.
Willison’s hope, of course, is that even if Bush is sidelined others will help pick up the slack. Four other players average between 6-11 points.
Prairie has been looking like the Prairie of old lately and used a strong second half to blow Wilson out in the West Central championship game, 63-42. Nicole Goecke hit five 3-pointers en route to her 25-point performance.
Personally, I think these are both top-eight teams. But one of them isn’t going to make it. I will pencil Blanchet in, but will keep the eraser handy and wouldn’t be surprised to go the other way.
I think Wilson-Ferndale could be a toss-up, too. Playing up in that multi-classification Northwest Conference, Ferndale is another of those unknowns. The Eagles lost to Glacier Peak in the Northwest District semifinals, 55-43, then eliminated Stanwood and Marysville-Pilchuck to land a regional berth.
Wilson was a state semifinalist last year, but graduated its top two scorers. Yet the Rams are knocking on the Tacoma Dome door again and could well make their way in.
I like the way Mountlake Terrace has been playing and the Hawks nearly got Glacier Peak in the Northwest District final, outscoring the Grizzlies 18-11 in the fourth before coming up short, 53-52.
Lincoln is back in the round of 16 for the first time since 2005-06, when the school was in Class 4A – and that was the Abes’ only appearance since 1987-88. They qualified as the No. 3 team out of West Central, but I’ve been told by at least one ex-coach that the quality of the tournament was down considerably from in the past.
So Terrace gets the nod.
Might as well move on to Glacier Peak, which I expect to handle Mercer Island – although it could be closer than some might think. MI has played some tough teams tough – remember, the Islanders beat Bellevue back in January (then lost to the Wolverines in the KingCo championship game). Getting through the talented Sea-King District isn’t easy.
But Glacier Peak appears to be peaking at the right time (pardon the pun) and has proven it can win the close ones.
Bellevue endured a tough, three-game losing streak in mid-January, but has been tough down the stretch. They had won eight straight before falling to Cleveland in the Sea-King title game, 77-49. I think Shelby Cansler and Mandy Steward will get them back to Tacoma, where they finished fifth last season.
Kennedy Catholic has dropped three of its last four but features the Seamount MVP in senior Maya Williams (nearly 18 ppg).
Sunnyside got a lot of folks’ attention with a 65-58 victory over Kamiakin in the sub-regional championship game Saturday, and I’ve got to give those Grizzlies an advantage over Auburn Mountainview. They’ve been scoring well, while the Lions tend to rely more on their defense. Sunnyside’s three losses were to the 4A regional qualifiers Davis (twice) and Moses Lake (going 2-1 against the Chiefs).
That leaves Kamiakin vs. University. Both teams had some injury troubles earlier in the year and compete against a lot of tough 4A teams during the regular season (especially U-Hi in that brutal GSL). These two teams met in the sub-regional semifinals and Kamiakin won by 10, 52-42, so I’ll go with the Braves again.
And my pick to win it all: Cleveland.
I just don’t feel as though I have much of a handle on the 2A regionals, to be honest – but I’ll give it a brief stab.
Mark Morris, the defending champion, had been ranked No. 1 all season and I fully expected to Monarchs to march to the title again. In fact, when I looked at the score of the District 4 championship game between Mark Morris and W.F. West – 53-47 – I wrote Mark Morris down as the champion.
W.F. West won that game and moved up to No. 1 team in this week’s final rankings.
I expect the two will see each other again in Tacoma at some point. It’s an unfortunate regional draw for Renton, which faces Mark Morris Friday – and I’ll get the opportunity to see that contest. Lots of talent will be on display. The Monarchs feature the Eaton twins, while Renton is led by high-scoring Taylor Farris.
So, here are my 2A regional picks – Mark Morris, Sumner, Ellensburg, East Valley (Spokane), Burlington-Edison, Lynden, Black Hills and W.F. West.
I could be way off base. East Valley plays West Valley of Yakima, and I’ve got them ranked 7-8. I could flip a coin in that one. No. 4 Black Hills plays No. 5 White River, and the Hornets certainly have a shot to win that one. Lake Washington might give Sumner a good go – I’ve had a hard time gauging the Kangaroos this season (in large part because of those tough KingCo 3A teams they play against).
I’d still have to lean toward Mark Morris as the team to beat for the 2A title (the Monarchs beat W.F. West by 15 in the second game of the year). But with the athletic Nike McClure, the Bearcats can’t be counted out.
OK, that’s all I have time for today. Check back tomorrow for some regional preview capsules for all of the 4A and 3A games and any 2A games involving local teams.
And get out and fill the stands this weekend!