A showdown looms in the State 4A girls basketball tournament.
If Mead and Mount Rainier, which have been the top-ranked teams all season, win their openers today, they would face off in the semifinals on Friday.
The teams have a blood connection. Cousins start on both teams. Twin sisters Brittany and Jordan McPhee start for the Rams and Mackenzie McPhee starts for Mead.
The father of the Mount Rainier McPhees is Bryce and their mother is former Eastern Washington University player Alice Jones. Mackenzie’s father is Jim. The brothers played collegiately at Gonzaga University.
Mackenzie McPhee, who signed with Regis University, has looked forward to the possibility of playing her cousins all season.
Brittany McPhee, a junior, is arguably the best player in the state. She’s the reigning Gatorade Player of the Year and is being heavily recruited. She was named The (Tacoma) News Tribune’s player of the year. She’s 6-foot, like her cousin, and averages 26.4 points and 12.4 rebounds.
There’s also a Gonzaga connection within Mead’s starting lineup. Sue Winger’s father, Mike, played with Jim at Gonzaga.
The West Valley girls have blended seniors with youth this year and the results have been pleasant.
“This is a big deal for the seniors who have stuck with us,” WV coach Lorin Carlon said.
WV (19-5) got a difficult draw. The Eagles open tonight against No. 1-ranked Mark Morris (22-2) at the SunDome in Yakima. Tipoff is at 9.
“We had seniors and young kids that had to learn how to play with each other,” Carlon said. “You know how that goes sometimes. It doesn’t always work out. Our seniors have been patient and our freshmen and sophomores have come a long way.”
Perhaps the biggest impact from the youth came from 5-11 sophomore transfer Erin Higbie, who moved in from Coeur d’Alene. She has averaged 15.4 points and 12.5 rebounds.
Senior 5-2 point guard Aaliyah Ashley-Meek is the lone Eagle who has been to state.
Carlon is optimistic.
“We’re playing really good defense right now,” he said. “Sometimes at state defense carries you. Hopefully it will carry us another three games.”
University 6-4 junior forward Ben Kuiper returns to state – but this time he’s wearing a Titans uniform.
Titans coach Garrick Phillips took Kuiper and fellow juniors Michael Isotalo and Conor Linehan to state last year when U-Hi took third. They sat in the bleachers.
As sophomores, they were key contributors on a talented junior varsity team. Phillips wanted them to get the feel of state even though they didn’t suit up.
“The chemistry of the JV team last year has shone on the varsity this year,” Kuiper said. “And we have Brett (Bailey), the best player in the GSL. What can I say? He puts the team on his back. He’s a phenomenal leader. He’s humble, he’s genuine.”
Kuiper scored 11 points and had seven rebounds in U-Hi’s win over Enumclaw in a state opener last Saturday.
“My confidence level has gone up,” Kuiper said. “I know I can score. I got in the weight room and got a little beefier.”
Another Titan who has had a big impact is junior point guard DeShaun Boswell.
“We didn’t have DeShaun until school started,” Phillips said. “He’s a military kid and they moved in from Germany. It’s taken him a while to feel his way back into American basketball. He had a lot of growing pains, learning what I wanted out of him and seeing how much I’d let him get away with. He’s unguardable when he takes the ball to the hole. He’s fit in well and been accepted.”
This ’n that
It took the Gonzaga Prep girls a while to figure out how to make up for the loss of senior wing Madison Wright, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during the holidays. Not only did they have to replace her points, the Bullpups had to tighten up their defense. The Bullpups have had balanced scoring. Four players score between 15.4 and 9.9 per game. … You could say the pressure is off the Bullpups in their opener today. They’ve played four elimination games in a row to get to the double-elimination format. … Mead junior guard Delany Junkermier loves the way her team is playing. The recipe for continued success is simple, she said. “We have to be completely focused,” she said. “Every team that got to state is supposed to be there. We’ve just got to play our game and we should be fine.”