The girls basketball program at Sumner High is still looking for that identity the team needs to succeed since graduating two star players in Jamie Lange and Anna Hurd.
Last season, the Spartans won the 3A South Puget Sound League title and Lange took home most valuable player honors in the process. But then Lange went down when she tore her ACL, ultimately sinking Sumner’s playoff hopes as well.
Even with all the talent, the Spartans had no answer to Lange’s injury, and the results weren’t pretty when Sumner squared off against West Seattle on Feb. 28. The Spartans struggled in a 56-18 loss.
“I think that losing Jamie (Lange) and going out the way we did stuck with the younger girls — that (game) was on their minds all offseason as they worked hard to move past it,” Sumner coach Jordan Moog said. “It was ‘How can we become more of a team instead of relying on one person?’”
That was a difficult loss, yet for the Spartans, it was a lesson they learned as they now take aim at another run at the postseason.
To push ahead and advance deeper than the team did a year ago will require more from this year’s Spartan squad, as unity will be the key to success. And the person to help guide the team is now become the authority of the team: Jane Allyn Norris.
“Authority, authority,” Norris repeated and laughed about. “We’re a lot younger team ... but I think we’re wanting to be one, and we’re all stepping up to create this family element knowing we won’t be pushed around.”
To do that, Norris will need to take charge as the Spartans’ point guard.
“It’s about me being more confident in knowing where everyone needs to be at to best help the team,” Norris, a junior, said.
With Norris at point guard and in full control of the team, knowing how Moog’s system is supposed to be run will be the vital component to Sumner’s chances at the postseason.
“I’ve seen us all coming together,” Annie Smith said. “With someone like Jane knowing the system the way she does, it helps us be where we need to be at on the court. She makes us better by just knowing where and why we need to be at all times.”
Last season Norris demonstrated strong intuition on the court, but having a strong post player like Lange allowed her to fall back and let the team’s MVP run the show. But for the team to go further, Norris realized she had to do more than sit back.
She had to dig deeper and become more than simple flashes. Norris had to become the leader Sumner needed to transition away from a previously talented senior class.
“As a point guard, it’s our job to set the tempo of the game and how we want these games want to be run,” Norris said. “As the point guard, we need to show we’re leading the team and we’re calling the shots, not to leave it on another person.We have to take that authority.”
No longer does Norris rely on others. She’s in charge.
With Sumner starting off its season with tough losses loss to 3A Metro’s Cleveland (43-33 on Dec. 1) and 4A SPSL Kentridge (64-30 on Saturday), the Spartans feel these games will only get them where they need to go.
“Cleveland’s really good,” Norris said. “They showed where we still need to work on some things at practice to get to where this team wants to go, and that’s (the) state (tournament).”
Sumner entered the week with a 1-2 overall record, its lone win a 47-36 victory over 4A SPSL South’s Emerald Ridge on Thursday.
Cutting it off the bench
The Spartans have become used to the sound when junior Kennedy Cutter comes off the bench.
“She gets our offense rolling when she starts making her shots — we feed off it as a team,” Norris said.
Cutter is the X Factor for Sumner’s offense. This junior makes knocking down the 3-point shot seem easy. It’s second nature for her to sit behind the arc and add up the scoring three points at a time.
“Once one shot goes in, it’s easy to get yourself on a roll and start connecting with one shot after another,” Cutter said. “You get into a groove.”
But Cutter will need to do more than just sit back comfortably waiting for her teammates to find her. She’ll have to get creative on the court.
“I think I need to work on creating my shots ... working off the dribble or using screens to get myself open more,” Cutter said. “I need to be more of a complete shooter on offense.”
But it’s not just about Cutter creating her shot. It will need to be a team effort for Sumner to get into the postseason.
“When (Cutter) starts making her shots, it’s easy to just watch her,” Madison Coates said. “But we need to step up and help her because other teams will see she’s scoring all our points. We need to be there for her like she’s there for us.”
“I’m nervous, definitely,” said sophomore Kaitlyn Clark, who’s sliding over to the post position a year after Lange left. “I just get out there and play and do what I know is best for the team — just getting our shots up and getting boards.”
With a fully-loaded deck off the bench — and with youth in the right places — Sumner looks to be capable to get on the winning track and put the team where both Moog and the players believe the Spartans can go.
“I think these girls have more potential than we previously did because they understand it’s going to be a team effort to win games, to for us to have a chance to win league,” Moog stated. “They know they have the talent to make it past districts and into state. I really believe they have that ability — and they believe it, too.”