No sooner had the girls lazily put down their duffle bags inside the Todd Beamer High School gymnasium than point guard Bria Rice was intent on getting girls basketball practice started promptly, if not a tad early.
“Let’s get in our stretching,” she yelled in a non-negotiable tone.
One by one, each teammate took a seat on the hardwood to begin pre-practice exercises, all while coach Corey Alexander stood nearby.
A new tenor of the team is evolving. Last season, Rice, shooting guard Quinessa Caylao-Do and forward Nia Alexander were not only promoted to the Titans’ varsity
squad from day one as ninth-graders, they were also inserted into the starting lineup.
Flanking all-South Puget Sound League South Division post player Megan Huff, the three were integral in helping Beamer win the divisional title and nearly upsetting SPSL North powerhouse Mount Rainier, led by Brittany McPhee, in the league championship game, losing 57-56.
Eleven days later, the Titans also lost to Mount Rainier for the Class 4A West Central District title in Kent.
“They earned their spots,” Corey Alexander said. “They went out there and were hungry. And I put the best players on the floor.”
Even with Huff still in tow, the three sophomores are now part of the leadership trust this season – and should be for the next few years.
“You have to be comfortable … using your voice,” Rice said. “Once you gain chemistry, you can play that role.”
Their journey together started in youth basketball. Rice and Caylao-Do were teammates on Federal Way-based YEA Basketball, which produced reigning SPSL South player of the year Raven Benton, a Federal Way High product who is now playing at Cal-State Long Beach.
By sixth grade, Alexander – who played for the Riverside AAU team out of Auburn – would occasionally join Rice and Caylao-Do on their YEA Gold squad.
“Honestly, I didn’t really talk to them,” Alexander said. “We never had time to hang out. We just played.”
The more Alexander showed up, the more time their parents interacted with one another at games.
In 2011, a faction of parents, led by Karen Caylao-Do, started a new AAU team for their daughters called the Northwest Blazers Velocity, out of Tukwila.
“Once Velocity started,” Rice said, “we became close.”
Yet in the summer of 2012, Alexander, Caylao-Do and Rice had no clue they would end up together on the same Beamer squad. Alexander’s father was the junior-varsity coach at Auburn Riverside, and she figured she would be attending that school.
But when the Beamer varsity job became open, Corey Alexander was hired to fill it. And the three girls enrolled at that school.
“Sort of the ‘Fab Three,’ ” Nia Alexander said.
Rice is known as the pesky point guard who rarely gets flustered. Her decision-making displays maturity well beyond her years.
Caylao-Do can light it up from the outside but is also a hard-nosed defender and rebounder. She was named an all-SPSL South second-teamer last season.
So was Alexander, who athletically is a difficult matchup. She is strong enough to battle bigger players inside, but she is also quick enough to tangle with smaller guards on the perimeter.
They are not perfect – in fact, far from it. They also know they’ve earned a longer leash as young players with their coach.
“With the three of us, he knows we are not selfish players,” Alexander said. “And if we make a selfish act, we fix it. He is hard on us only when it is necessary.”
Of course, sometimes Alexander gets caught in the crossfire between her father’s hard instruction and her teammates’ cheap back talk.
“They might say something under their breath,” Alexander said. “I just try to act like I don’t hear it.”
CLASS 4A GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW
- 1. Mount Rainier: Two McPhees finally net one 4A title?
- 2. Beamer: Young, brash and savvy; future is now.
- 3. Kentwood: Conks are guard-heavy, pressure-oriented.
- 4. Puyallup: Talented, but can Viks survive in high tempo?
- 5. Bellarmine Prep: Should easily reclaim lost Narrows 4A title.
1. Mount Rainier (27-2)
2. Kentwood (19-9)
3. Kentridge (14-12)
4. Auburn Riverside (18-7)
5. Tahoma (12-11)
6. Kentlake (7-13)
7. Auburn (5-14)
8. Jefferson (5-14)
9. Kent-Meridian (0-16)
* 2012-13 records
F Jenny Johnson 5-11 sr. Kentwood
- Conks don’t have a true post player this season, so she should pick up slack.
F Brittany McPhee 6-0 sr. Mount Rainier
- Stanford signee is reigning Gatorade player of year for Washington (27.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg).
G Jordan McPhee 5-10 sr. Mount Rainier
- The Rams have plenty of scoring; all she has to do is distribute and defend.
F Chardonae Miller 5-10 sr. Tahoma
- Long, rangy standout can lock up nearly any guard out on the perimeter.
G Sarah Toeaina 5-10 sr. Kentwood
- Basketball always finds her, and Hawaii signee aggressively attacks with it.
Circle the Calendar: Jan. 24, Mount Rainier at Kentwood, 5:45 p.m.
1. Beamer (20-6)
2. Puyallup (20-6)
3. Emerald Ridge (8-11)
4. Federal Way (17-7)
5. Bethel (9-12)
6. Curtis (6-14)
7. Rogers (13-10)
8. Spanaway Lake (5-15)
9. Graham-Kapowsin (1-19)
* 2012-13 records
G/F Nia Alexander 5-9 so. Beamer
- Strong enough to take on post players, quick enough to stay with guards.
G Riley Clarke 5-11 jr. Emerald Ridge
- Defines determination; if you give her a step, she’s too strong to stop.
C Megan Huff 6-3 sr. Beamer
- Hawaii signee just too big, strong and skilled for any one player to defend.
G Braylie Jeffers 5-6 sr. Puyallup
- Won’t lead team in scoring; will lead Viks in defensive stops, hustle plays.
F Addison Picha 6-2 jr. Puyallup
- If this standout outside playmaker displays more physicality, sky is the limit.
Circle the Calendar: Feb. 4, Puyallup at Beamer, 7 p.m.
1. Bellarmine Prep (16-9)
2. Central Kitsap (14-8)
3. Olympia (11-9)
4. Yelm (20-5)
5. South Kitsap (8-12)
6. Gig Harbor (9-13)
7. Stadium (2-18)
* 2012-13 records
G Jasmyne Holmes 5-6 sr. Bellarmine Prep
- Plan is for all-Narrows 4A point guard to handle basketball at all times.
G Taylor Krouse 5-6 jr. Central Kitsap
- Has knack for hitting dramatic shot; she returns as Cougars’ top scorer.
C Claire Martin 6-5 jr. Bellarmine Prep
- Lions are shifting to more of interior team; this will be her breakout year.
G Jenna Randich 5-7 so. Olympia
- Reliable defender and shooter is young group’s best all-around player.
G McKaiela Tyler 5-7 sr. Yelm
- Last season, she came off the bench firing 3-pointers. Now, 32 minutes of it.
Circle the Calendar: Jan. 29, Bellarmine Prep at Central Kitsap, 7 p.m.