A giddy group of Kentridge girls stood at center court in the Tacoma Dome last Saturday night, lifting the 4A state basketball championship trophy over their heads for a gaggle of photographers.
Looking back to the first day of practice in November neither the players nor the Kentridge coach Bob Sandall was thinking about hoisting a state trophy.
“I never knew we were going to get this far, and getting this far means so much,” Jordyn Jenkins said after the Chargers beat Glacier Peak 60-46 for the program’s first state crown.
The Chargers are a young team with a sophomore JaQuaya Miller, and Jenkins, a freshman, creating double trouble in the post for opposing teams
“We are pretty young,” Sandall said. “Obviously we have a lot of freshman playing key roles and we are really deep. We kind of jelled as things went along. It took a while for rotations to work themselves out and who can play with whom. We did some experimenting early on, some good some bad. But these kids are so willing to defer to each other. We are fortunate beyond belief to have kids with the ability they have.”
The road to winning the championship went outside the lines of the court and plays drawn on a white board.
“They spent a ton of time together,” Sandall said. “I was really proud of our seniors. Taylor (Jenkins) and Melanie (Lane) and Bronte (Fougere) and Brooke (Ziegenhagen), they are the ones you don’t see. They are the ones who do the dirty work in practice. They did the leadership stuff. Taylor did a great job of getting the kids together off the court, keeping them together, doing stuff with them, even back last summer.”
The coach said the confidence to win the championship came when the Chargers traveled east of the mountains for a regional playoff game.
“The key was when we went over to Moses Lake and played them so tough,” Sandall said. “They are such a strong program year in and year out. They are one of the best teams in the state. We went over there and went toe-to-toe with them. We didn’t come out with a win, but I think the kids realized ‘Hey we’re just as good as anybody and we can compete with anybody.’”
Beat everyone is what the Chargers did. The team won its next four games and capped the season with the state title.
It started with Todd Beamer in the first round of the tournament winning 57-40 on March 1.
Kentridge lined up against its nemesis, the No. 1 seeded Kentlake Falcons on March 2 in the second round and won 55-44 after trailing for much of the game. The girls locked down the paint and made critical free throws.
In the second half, Miller grabbed eight defensive and two offensive rebounds for a game-high of 15. Kentridge decisively won the battle of the boards for the game 37-30.
Jenkins dropped in a game-high 20 points and Morgan Gary 17.
The Chargers took out Bellarmine Prep 54-41 in the semifinal last Friday. Again, Miller led the rebounding with 14 and added 11 points. Jenkins and Gary scored 16 and Jenkins brought down 12 rebounds.
The final game against Glacier Peak was no cakewalk for the girls. At the half, the score was tied at 28 and the Chargers knew a battle stood between it and the title.
Once the third quarter opened, Miller took over in the key, Jenkins began hitting buckets and Tresai McCarver took over the point and the pace in the fourth as the Chargers surged ahead.
The Kentridge guards hit from the perimeter, particularly in the fourth quarter, and kept the Grizzlies from making a run.
McCarver scored six points, including a three, and grabbed nine rebounds with three assists. Fougere had five points, also dropping in a three, and she had three boards and one assist.
Freshman Daylani Ballena hit a big three and let the high-school basketball world know another shooter was coming.
“It was a great opportunity to be on varsity as a freshman,” Ballena said. “I’m speechless about it really. I can’t believe it is real. I was really nervous at first. I was kind of struggling in the first half, but after the second half I wanted to go out there and work hard. This is a diehard sport for me. I am going to play this sport for the rest of my life.”
Kentridge’s size and strength wore down the Grizzlies, who had its 24-game winning streak snapped.
The Chargers, leading 37-35 after three quarters, outscored the Grizzlies 23-11 in the final period.
Miller ended the game with 27 points, 17 rebounds, five steals, two blocks and one assist. She was named the tournament MVP. Jenkins had 17 points, 12 boards and four blocks. She was named to the all-tournament team.
“I was just hungry for every rebound,” Miller said. “I knew if we got a rebound we were going to get a bucket, but it was a team effort. If I didn’t have my teammates to make the smart decision and looking for me when they did we wouldn’t have gotten up as much as we did.”
Sandall knew the inside game was key to the title.
“We were very confident in our post,” he said. “Our best bet a lot of times is to get those in there. But we had big threes from our guards. It was a great team effort. It’s exciting stuff. I’m really proud of these kids.”