Few would have considered the Kentridge High School girls basketball team the favorite to win its first 4A state title in school history last March.
But now that the Chargers have been there, done that, and return almost all of their key players from a season ago?
“Everybody is doubting us,” Kentridge’s 6-foot-4 junior JaQuaya Miller said. “Because they think we got lucky and won, when really we were just working as hard as everyone else and came away with the dub.
“We know teams are coming for us. But we’re prepared.”
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Take Kentridge’s win Saturday in a nonleague showcase against Gig Harbor at Highline College for something.
Kentridge won 59-20 against a team that was also playing in the Tacoma Dome a year ago and also returns some of its key players. The Chargers allowed just two baskets in the first half against a team that scored 75 points the night prior.
“I’m not sure we can play any better defense than that,” Kentridge coach Bob Sandall said. “I told them that – and now that’s our standard. But, honestly, I don’t know how much better we can be than that.”
So how do you score against Kentridge?
Bellarmine Prep figured that out in a state-semifinal rematch of a year ago, with the Chargers suffering a season-opening 62-61 loss. But since then, Kentridge allowed just 31 points against Tahoma, 22 against Hazen and now 20 against Gig Harbor.
Gig Harbor had trouble attacking the paint because Northern Arizona signee Morgan Gary is tough on the wing – she scored 10 points.
And then Miller and 6-foot-2 sophomore Jordyn Jenkins, both returning starters, controlled the paint. Miller, ranked as the No. 48 overall 2019 recruit in the country by ESPN, had 11 points, three rebounds and three assists – and she hit her lone 3-point attempt – and Jenkins had 12 points and six rebounds.
Gig Harbor’s first basket came with 2:50 remaining in the first quarter, a 3-pointer from Maddie Willett, to cut Kentridge’s lead to 17-3. But its next bucket didn’t come until midway through the second quarter, when reigning TNT All-Area guard Brynna Maxwell converted a three-point play to make it 30-6.
Kentridge led 35-8 at halftime.
“That’s maybe the best defense we’ve ever had,” Gary said. “We double-teamed their star player (Maxwell) and it helped everyone rotate better.”
Gig Harbor entered the game 4-0.
“That’s a good team and they beat Kentlake and I wanted them – I was nervous coming in,” Sandall said. “I think we were just able to just able to jump on them and that set the tone early.”
University of Washington women’s basketball coach Jody Wynn was at the game. She spoke with Miller afterward and chatted with Gig Harbor coach Megan Murray about Maxwell before the game.
UCLA and Cal coaches were there, too.
“It mean, it was overwhelming,” Miller said. “But now I’m at a point where I’m used to it.”
She said she plans to commit to a school either at the end of this high school season or at the end of her upcoming AAU season before her senior year.
“Jody tries to make it to all my games and show support, she’s cool,” Miller said.
“I’m just looking for who shows the most support, who all comes out. Not the ones who constantly blow my phone up. The ones who come out and show support when they can.”
But she’s more concerned with adding another state championship trophy to Kentridge’s halls, first.
After that season-opening loss to Bellarmine Prep, Sandall said he’s been impressed with how his team has responded.
“You always wonder how your team is going to react after a loss and they handled it exactly the right way,” he said. “They were frustrated. And they had a week off before we played again and practices were kind of salty. They reacted the right way. This is not a group that sits and is happy with where they are.”
And also a group with plenty of size.
“Luckiest coach in the world,” Sandall laughed. “I’m so fortunate to have these kids because they give me so many options and they are all so unselfish. They don’t care who scores, they don’t care who gets the credit – they are just really good about sharing the ball with each other and I’m real proud of them.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677