For the first time in 10 years, the Issaquah girls basketball team is bound for the 4A state tournament at the Tacoma Dome.
The Eagles punched their ticket to the Dome with a 67-50 win over the Kentwood Conquerors in a loser-out regional playoff game on Feb. 29 at Sammamish High School. The Eagles were set to open the tournament against the Kentridge Chargers in a loser-out game on March 4 at the Tacoma Dome, after the Reporter’s deadline. The winner of that game will advance to play the Central Valley Bears on March 5.
Making it to the state tournament was a goal that the Eagles set for themselves before the season. Issaquah head coach Doug Crandall said it wasn’t easy to get to this point. During their postseason run, the Eagles lost some close games to tough opponents, including a 53-51 loss to Glacier Peak in the district playoffs on Feb. 15.
“At times, when we’re losing games by two points, it felt kind of far away,” Crandall said. “We just stayed together and it’s amazing to set a goal, work towards it and get it.”
For senior Katie MacNary, making it to state and achieving their goal is a reward for their hard work.
“This is all we’ve been dreaming of since last June, so we’re so excited and so ready for it,” MacNary said. “We’ve made that goal every year since I was a freshman, and we finally made it a reality.”
Going into their regional playoff game against Kentwood, the Eagles had plenty of experience playing against tough opponents. Crandall said they knew that Kentwood had some really good players, but they were confident because they’ve gone through a gauntlet of challenging opponents for the last month.
While it hasn’t been the easiest path to state, the Eagles knew they could play with any team in the state. MacNary said those games against Glacier Peak, Eastlake and Lake Stevens have made them tougher.
“We’ve won some tight ones and I think it’s made us closer as a team,” MacNary said. “It makes us think we can weather anything.”
Against the Conquerors, the Eagles started the game on fire, taking a 19-5 lead in the first quarter. The Conquerors were able to go on an 8-0 run to make it 19-13 after the first quarter.
After having to play from behind a lot during this postseason run, it was important for the Eagles to start fast and play with a lead. Sophomore guard Keira Hanson said that early lead helped them withstand the pushback from the Conquerors.
“(Kentwood) went on a few runs, but because we had such a strong start, that helped us have a cushion,” Hanson said. “It gave us momentum through the whole game.”
After the Conquerors ended the first quarter with a run, the Eagles answered back with a 7-0 run of their own to take a 28-15 lead midway through the second quarter. The Eagles held a 35-24 advantage at halftime.
After an evenly matched third quarter, the Eagles took a 52-41 lead into the fourth quarter. After Kentwood scored the first four points of the quarter, Issaquah’s Shea Dillon answered with a 3-pointer to put the Eagles back up by double-digits. Crandall said those shots to stop Kentwood’s runs were important.
“In a game like this, where you know they’re going to battle, they’re huge,” Crandall said. “I think the girls came up big every time they needed to.”
The Eagles comfortably saw the game out, securing a 67-50 win and guaranteeing their spot at the Tacoma Dome. In the victory over Kentwood, junior forward Alivia Stephens led the scoring with 17 points and MacNary added 14.
As the Eagles prepare for state tournament basketball, their defensive game is going to be a big focus. Throughout the postseason, the Eagles defense has smothered their opponents, forcing turnovers. Hanson said they’ve been working on defense a lot during practice.
“In the playoffs, everyone is good, so defense is a bigger focus,” Hanson said. “Defense literally wins games.”
Hanson, who is one of four sophomores on the Eagles varsity roster, said she’s excited to play at the Dome in a new atmosphere.
“They say that once you get to the Dome, you’ll want to keep going,” Hanson said. “I’m glad that I get to go this year and hopefully more in the future.”
The Eagles are set to open the state tournament in a loser-out game, something that the Eagles are familiar with.
“It’s extra motivation,” Hanson said about playing in a loser-out situation. “We don’t want to go home and we love our seniors. We want to stay together as a team as long as we can and keep winning.”
For MacNary, there is no better way to close out her high school basketball career than state basketball at the Dome.
“I’ve been dreaming about it for four years,” MacNary said. “I’ll stand there before the tip-off and I’ll just look around and take it all in. I’m going to enjoy every second of it.”
Their preseason goal was to make it to the Dome, but now that they’re there, the Eagles can set new goals.
“We’re going to take it one game at a time and try to get the state championship,” MacNary said. “Why not at this point?”