How much does basketball mean to Brynna Maxwell?
Consider what happened when she was 6 years old. Inclement weather postponed the youth basketball league game she was scheduled to play in, and she burst into tears.
For two days.
She ultimately got over her disappointment of that day. And she even tried other sports. But basketball was it for her, and it’s why she was selected as The Gateway’s Gig Harbor High School female athlete of the year.
“I grew up playing soccer, softball and basketball,” Maxwell said. “Both my mom and dad played basketball at PLU. It was a way for me to connect with my dad and I just grew to love it. He taught me everything I know and it was a way for our whole family to connect and I grew to love the sport.”
Fast forward to 2015. Megan Murray, in her first season as varsity girls basketball coach at Gig Harbor, was looking to build upon a program that experienced little success in recent seasons. From 2006 to 2015, the Tides had only had two seasons over .500 in that span. The interest was low as was the turnout.
To combat those factors, Murray made creating a feeder program a priority in the community to get more kids at a younger age involved. That would lay the ground work for a team that wound up winning the state championship in 2018; however, it was a freshman that caught Murray’s eye that helped catapult the team to new heights.
That was Maxwell. Murray noticed her shooting ability and knowledge of the game. And, Maxwell seemed to be the type of player that all players would gravitate to.
“When you’ve got someone coming in there with that type of talent,” Murray said. “Really, her mindset — I think it made girls and other players accountable, responsible and made them really want to challenge themselves to play at a higher level. Within the program and in the community and younger kids.
“A lot of girls really looked up to her and admired her.”
The wins grew with the program. In 2015-16, the Tides went 15-9 and made the West Central District III playoffs. The following season they went 18-5 and made it to the regional round of the Class 3A state tournament before losing to Kamiakin, 73-69.
In 2017-18, the Tides entered the 3A state playoffs with a 22-6 record and 13-1 conference record that gave them the South Sound Conference regular season title.
Having to play three games in three days, the Tides defeated Bethel and West Seattle to set up a title game against third-seeded Garfield High School. Throughout the tournament, Maxwell had been on a tear, scoring 28 points versus Bethel and 25 points against West Seattle in the semifinals.
“You could see her going to another level,” Murray said. “She’s one of those players that gives everything to the game and she believes that her team is going to win. She just rose to another level because she had a bad taste in her mouth since we had made it to the Dome the year before. I think she wanted to get back there and she wanted to win some games.”
In the 3A state championship game, Maxwell scored 31 points by making 8 of 19 shots from the floor and all of her 12 free-throws to lift the Tides to a 51-48 victory and the school’s first state title. Maxwell set a tournament record averaging 27.6 points per game and was named the tournament MVP.
“It was really surreal for our whole team, we had never won a state championship,” Maxwell said. “We were considered by everyone the underdog even though we were ranked as a two seed. So we had a huge chip on our shoulder and our whole team just wanted to prove everybody wrong. Just the determination just to prove everybody wrong and put our city on the map as a big motivator.”
During the summer of 2018, Maxwell committed to the University of Utah. The Utes have had their eye on Maxwell since her 8th grade year when she got her first letter from the school.
“At the end of the day, they (Utah) won her over with their trust and the relationships they built with her and they made her a priority,” her father, Steven Maxwel,l said.
“Kind of like Gig Harbor, Utah is on their way to doing something. Before Brynna got to Gig Harbor, they had never won a conference, district, or state championship. Brynna was happy to be apart of that. Utah has a great basketball history and Brynna is happy to be apart of something they haven’t done in a while and that’s make the NCAA Tournament.”
As Maxwell entered her senior season, she knew that the target would be on Gig Harbor. Finishing 17-8 and second in the SSC, Gig Harbor failed to reach the Dome even as Maxwell piled up big numbers.
She leaves the program as the all-time leading scorer with 1,968 points and the school’s all-time record for points in a game (48 vs. Hudson’s Bay on Feb. 19). She was named to both the AP and USA Today All-State first team in both 2018 and 2019.
“Sometimes you’re in amazement at what she can do on the floor, she was double- and triple-teamed and it didn’t affect her and she’s one of the most competitive players I ever coached,” Murray said. “She’s a top-level kid that deserves everything she’s earned.
“And I can’t wait to see what she does in the Pac-12.”