The Peninsula High School girls basketball teams is headed to the state tournament for the first time since 1989.
“When you take time to think about how long that is, how many teams have been through here, it’s insane to think of,” said Peninsula senior center Kirsten Ritchie.
Peninsula posted a 50-33 win over Lakes Feb. 7 to open the Class 3A West Central District III/Southwest bi-district tournament, before falling Feb. 9 to eventual district champion Lincoln, 48-33.
Then, Peninsula bounced back with a 70-36 win over Hudson’s Bay on Feb. 12, and a 54-47 win over league rival Timberline Feb. 14 to advance to the state tournament. To top it off, Peninsula posted a 58-47 complete win over Kelso, to take fifth place in the tournament on Feb. 16.
Against Kelso, Peninsula controlled the action from the start. Peninsula lead at half, 32-35 and never looked back.
“I think we came out stronger than sometimes we do,” Ritchie said. “I think when you start strong, you really set the tempo for the whole game. Coming out with a stronger mentality really prepared us for the rest of it.”
The win didn’t get Peninsula into the RPI top 8, but it set the tone for the state tournament. The WIAA’s newly-implemented RPI system guarantees the top eight teams a spot in the Tacoma Dome. The other teams have to play a play-in/loser-out regional state game to earn a trip to the Dome. Junior Belle Frazier led the way with 23 points and 21 rebounds against Kelso.
“We just kept up the intensity and focus and were smart with the ball,” Frazier said. “It was a huge win for us. We needed it.”
Before the Timberline game, first-year PHS coach Mike Schick didn’t say anything to the girls about it being 29 years since the program’s last appearance in the state tournament.
“We try not to make anything too big for the girls,” Schick said. “We just try to go out and take it one game at a time, play our style of basketball and do the best we can. Trying to get these girls up for a game, when both teams are going to state, is difficult. But the girls know what the ultimate goal is and what’s at stake.”
Now, Schick’s team is 21-4 on the year and the high-pressure, high-energy style of basketball he’s brought to the team has the Seahawks in the state tournament.
It’s not the first negative streak Schick has broken during his coaching career. When Schick joined the coaching staff of the girls basketball team at Sammamish High School six years ago, the school had lost 110 league games in a row. Schick eventually took the team from the bottom of the KingCo to a Class 2A state tournament team.
“I’m fortunate, I guess, to be in the right situation to break a lot of those streaks,” Schick said, with a laugh. “The one here, I had no idea about it until a day before the Timberline game. I was happy for the girls to be a part of that.”
While a lot of the credit deservedly goes to the players, most notably, Belle Frazier’s phenomenal play this season, which earned her the South Sound Conference Most Valuable Player honors, a lot of the credit goes to Schick, as well.
“This is the fourth coach I’ve had in the Peninsula program, since I started freshman year,” Ritchie said. “Everyone brings something different. I think the energy this time around is much more upbeat and intense.”
Getting the players to believe in themselves has been half the battle.
“It’s so different,” Frazier said. “If you compare it to when I got here, it was just a completely different program. There weren’t any expectations. Now, we’re going to state. (Schick) is special. Just the energy he brings. He’s smart. He doesn’t get frazzled. He doesn’t really yell at us. He knows we know what to do. He knows how to make us realize what to do.”
Peninsula will face Mount Spokane in a loser-out game in the regional round of the state tournament on Friday (Feb. 23) at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. The winner will earn a trip to the Tacoma Dome.
“You just try to get them to focus in on the little things,” Schick said. “You want to take in the moment. Very few teams are able to get there and experience that. It’s a very special moment. But you want to make sure the girls are paying attention to detail and focus on the little things. Once you get to state, every team is good and every team has a shot, even the dark horses like us. It’s going to be a battle. We’re happy to be there but we’re not just going to settle for the fact that we made it there. We’re still hungry and we want to do some damage.”