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Kentwood girls hoops look to break out and top last season
In some ways, there is a sense of de ja vu to the South Puget Sound League North girls basketball season.
Mount Rainier is atop the standings, led by standout Brittany McPhee who regularly scores 30 or more points, while Kentwood and Auburn Riverside are in a battle for second place.
Last season, Kentwood won that second spot while Mount Rainier finished the league season undefeated.
Not much has changed on Kentwood’s roster. What is different at the start of this season is a spate of illness and injuries have hampered the Conquerors.
Still, the Conks beat the Ravens, 38-36 Dec. 15 on the road, then put together a 63-31 victory over Kent-Meridian Dec. 18 to improve to 5-1 in league play heading into winter break, putting Kentwood in second place behind Mount Rainier. That lone loss came against Mount Rainier Dec. 13 which seniors Kylee Ashley and Allison Newcomb both say won’t be repeated when the two teams play again Jan. 19 at Kentwood.
Newcomb, who took two years off after playing varsity as a freshman to focus on softball, explained that Mount Rainier had expected to thump Kentwood by 50 points. Instead, it was a 27 point loss, something both seniors expect to change next time.
“We’re always excited to play Mount Rainier,” Ashley said. “They’re an outstanding team. I’ve heard their coach say they like playing us because we give them some competition.”
Ashley, a post player who stands at 6 feet tall, said teams may have misjudged the Conks at this point in the season because they’ve played without key juniors such as Sarah Toeaina and Alycha DeLong, which has required reserve players have stepped up when normally they’ve come off the bench.
“We’re just focused on getting our bench ready,” Ashley said. “We need to just keep working hard and stay focused and play our game. Just because we have Alycha out, she is a huge part of our team, but it helps us, too. We have to change our roles and know what we have to do to fill that spot.”
While the injuries did make the game against the Rams a challenge, Ashley said, the Conks have learned a lot about themselves as a team. Everyone can shoot, she said, and the team is balanced.
“And there’s chemistry,” Ashley said. “The juniors have played together a long time. And we just click as a team.”
Newcomb said that off-court chemistry makes it easier to work together on the court.
“Girls sports, it can be hard,” Newcomb said. “Our biggest strength is we all get along. When we’re playing, we trust each other. We don’t take it wrong if we get on each other. This is a great team. I love the locker room. It’s so much fun.”
Even though Newcomb is recovering from pancreatitis and has missed three or four games, she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. She hoped to get the go-ahead soon from her doctor to get back on the court.
Talent, she said, is another major strength of this year’s team. Even when she’s not playing, Newcomb added, she enjoys the chance to watch the girls on the team because they are so talented on the floor.
“We have a lot of talent of all different ages,” Newcomb said. “If everyone is healthy … I think we’ll be unstoppable. I’m really excited about this year and the talent we have.”
Both Newcomb and Ashley said the plan is to make it to the playoffs with the ultimate goal to get to the state tournament at the Tacoma Dome in March.
“We are planning on making it to districts and we’ve talked about that,” Newcomb said. “This year I think we’ll make it to state. After losing two games I think we realized we’re not hot shots. We have things to work on.”
This is one area where Kentwood doesn’t want this season to be like last, Jackson eliminated the Conks in the regional round of the state tournament — just one win away from Elite Eight.
Once Kentwood gets healthy, the sense of de ja vu could go away in March.
“We want to go to the Tacoma Dome,” Ashley said.
Reach Assistant Editor Kris Hill at email@example.com or 425-432-1209 ext. 5054.