High School Sports

Doubt Bellarmine basketball all you want, but they have an Olympian, experience and a rally turtle

All five of last year’s starters return to the lineup for the Bellarmine girls basketball team. Left to right, Reyelle Frazier, Jenny Hagle, Shalyse Smith, Madeline Garcia, and Ciara Gatpatan. Behind is coach Kim West.
All five of last year’s starters return to the lineup for the Bellarmine girls basketball team. Left to right, Reyelle Frazier, Jenny Hagle, Shalyse Smith, Madeline Garcia, and Ciara Gatpatan. Behind is coach Kim West. phaley@thenewstribune.com

The game ended with a rare Bellarmine Prep loss. Arguing, bickering and finger-pointing ensued – some visible on the court, but most, the players said, occurred behind closed doors.

These five starters have played together for so long. All started last year in Bellarmine’s run to the 4A state semifinals, becoming the most successful team in school history, and are back for another go at it this year. But they say it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows.

Take that early-season 60-59 loss to Kentridge last year.

“There were a lot of things off the court being said,” said Shalyse Smith, Bellarmine Prep’s standout forward. “A lot of closed-door stuff.”

Now there’s a turtle.

It was Smith’s birthday and the University of Arizona basketball signee was surrounded by her teammates who presented her with a present – Bobla, the messy, smelly turtle.

Team chemistry is now one of this group’s greatest attributes. They’re close enough to gift their teammate a turtle (except Bobla recently bit Smith in the tongue, which she caught on video. It sent her to the emergency room).

But ... moving on.

“Now if someone corrects us, we think about it and go, ‘OK.’ But past years we would just shout back, like, ‘No! I know what I’m doing,’” senior guard Madeline Garcia said. “We are much more accepting because there is so much trust between us.”

“We are all really good friends,” senior guard Jenny Hagle said. “I know that everyone on the team will have my back no matter what.”

And there’s a common goal.

They say something is so glaringly awry in their school’s trophy case. The past three years Bellarmine has watched Gonzaga Prep, Central Valley and Kentridge win state titles, and the past three years they’ve also beaten each of those three teams.

“That has been on my mind since freshman year,” Smith said. “It’s our year now.”

“And I think it would feel deserved,” Garcia said. “Deserved because our goal has finally been reached.”

Garcia, Hagle and Smith pair alongside juniors Reyelle Frazier Ciara Gatpatan for an all-returning starting five that combines well alongside a more experienced, deeper bench.

The greatest difference is the coach. Kim West went from assistant to head coach because Kevin Meines, who had coached the team to 10 consecutive league titles, stepped down to focus on his health and new administrative position.

West has kept practices intense. The warm-ups seem like a full day’s work, but then she has substituted other practice days for yoga sessions. These are all things she has taken from her own playing career, which took her from Bellarmine, to the 2012 Olympics with Great Britain, with stops at Santa Clara, Oregon State (where she was the then-Pac-10’s second leading scorer) and just about all over the globe to play professionally.

“She played girls basketball, so she knows what it’s like to be playing girls basketball,” Smiths said.

“Oh, and she played at a pretty high level,” Garcia laughed.

But West has been around these players as an assistant since they were freshmen, so if Smith isn’t playing her hardest, West knows.

“I mean, Kevin is unbelievable,” West said. “He had a great run here. But it’s different being a woman and being here and graduating from here and playing overseas and coming back and coaching from real-life situations. That’s really the only thing that has changed – just me.”

Bellarmine isn’t the only team with its’ greatest contributors back for another run, though. So does defending state-champion Kentridge, which ended Bellarmine’s season in the state semifinals. Moses Lake returns Arizona State-bound Jamie Loera.

One media outlet had quipped that WIAA might as well have renamed the Tacoma Dome-held state tournament to the Central Valley Invitational for how talented the Spokane Valley team, with its Stanford-bound twins, Lacie and Lexie Hull were. And they’re back.

But Bellarmine went on to beat CV in a wild state-quarterfinal game, ending the Bears’ 53-game win streak, with a 56-55 win behind Smith’s go-ahead bucket with 28 seconds remaining. She finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds.

“It was hard to sleep that night,” Hagle said.

And the next day they’d play Kentridge. Sure, that early season meeting was a mess with how they had struggled just to get along with each other, but things had changed, that was gone, and they had already cruised to a 54-43 win over the Chargers in the district tournament on their way to the district title.

They weren’t able to handle Kentridge’s towering, talented post duo of 6-foot-4 JaQuaya Miller and 6-foot-2 Jordyn Jenkins, especially after coming off such a high as beating Central Valley. Smith was held to five points on 2-of-10 shooting.

“I watched the film a lot over the summer,” Smith said. “It wasn’t a fun game to watch.

“And it was something that was hard to forget,” Garcia said. “We went from the highest of high to the lowest low.”

“You go places and people go, ‘Oh, how did your season go?’ And you’re like, ‘Oh, we lost to Kentridge in the semifinals,’” Gatpatan said. “That was just a daily reminder of, wow, we need to work harder for this.”

So Bellarmine looked forward to that all offseason. It opened this year with a 62-61 win over the Chargers, with Smith scoring the go-ahead bucket and Gatpatan had the game-securing block. No other team has scored more than 33 points against Kentridge so far.

How motivated was Bellarmine for that game?

Garcia, Hagle, Frazier, Gatpatan and Smith answered in unison – very.

“I feel like we’re underdogs,” Smith said. “People look at us like we’re going to lose. We’re underrated. And so we show that on the court, that our skill level is there and the talent is there and our speed is there – we have everything.”

“I felt just like we should have done that a few months ago,” Frazier said. “That gives us a lot of motivation for when state comes around – to push harder.”

Bellarmine met Central Valley again in the summer at a team camp in Spokane, with the gym packed full of CV supporters.

Bellarmine lost that rematch and Smith said the opposing coach approached her after the game.

“He came to me and was like, ‘You’re a good player …’ and then he’s like, ‘When we played you guys at state, we just had a terrible game,’” Smith said.

“And I was like, ‘So did we – but that’s OK,’” she laughed.

“We thrive on being the underdogs,” West said. “Me, too. I was an underdog player all the time, but I never stopped. And we know this is going to be a pretty special year – this is a very special team.”

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677

Twitter: @TJCotterill

SOUTH SOUND HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS BASKETBALL PRIMER

CLASS 4A

TEAM TO WATCH

Felt like a banner year for 4A teams from the South Sound last season. Kentridge had its best run in school history – all the way to winning a 4A state championship. And it returns just about everybody, including its towering terrors of 6-foot-4 JaQuaya Miller and 6-foot-2 Jordyn Jenkins. And there’s Bellarmine Prep, which lost to Kentridge in the semifinals, but beat the Chargers in their season opener. The Lions return their starting five, including University of Arizona signee Shalyse Smith.

4A NPSL CASCADE

Kentridge
Kentridge's Morgan Gary (4) signed her letter of intent to play basketball at Northern Arizona University next year. Joshua Bessex jbessex@gateline.com

FAB FIVE

Guard – Morgan Gary, Kentridge, 5-9, sr.: Northern Arizona signee makes for tough matchup with blend of quickness and physicality. Even tougher to score on.

Forward – Aniston Denckla, Kentlake, sr.: Returning first-team all-league was the league MVP as a freshman. Has 3-point range, but even better around the basket.

Forward – Jordyn Jenkins, Kentridge, 6-2, so.: She’s got game. Took over in state tournament and finished season averaging 11.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.3 blocks.

Guard – Tresai McCarver, Kentridge, 5-5, sr.: Three-year starting point guard signed to play at Western Oregon next year. But what coach Bob Sandall loves most is her competitiveness.

Post – JaQuaya Miller, Kentridge, 6-4, jr.: Reigning league MVP and 4A state tournament MVP, averaged 11.8 points and 9.2 rebounds last year. Has scholarship offers from most the Pac-12.

League prediction

Kentridge (26-5 in 2016-17), Kentlake (23-6), Hazen (13-10), Tahoma (18-6), Kentwood (10-15), Mt. Rainier (9-12), Kennedy Catholic (3-17), Kent-Meridian (0-18)

MARK THE CALENDAR

Jan. 15: Central Valley vs. Kentridge, noon at the ShoWare Center (Kent).

4A NPSL OLYMPIC

Beamer coach
Head coach Corey Alexander of Todd Beamer in a girls basketball game at the WIAA state 4A championships in the Tacoma Dome, March 3, 2016. Peter Haley phaley@thenewstribune.com

FAB FIVE

Guard – Jessica Cerne, Enumclaw, 5-8, sr. – Averaged 14.1 points last year and is part of an experienced Hornets backcourt alongside Mackenzie Putman and is one of four returning Enumclaw starters.

Guard – Taylor Flores, Auburn Mountainview, jr.: With Auburn Riverside losing its big three from a year ago, can Flores make this the next great Auburn-area team? Returning first-team all-league pick.

Forward – Makenzie Bond, Todd Beamer, 6-1, sr.: Expect a greater leadership role than a year ago. Opened this season with 28 points and 16 rebounds in a win over Rogers.

Guard – Hailey Still, Thomas Jefferson, 5-5, so. – Not just a standout soccer player. Was an all-league guard as a freshman last year and opened this year with 28 points in a win over Emerald Ridge.

Forward – Aaliyah Alexander, Todd Beamer, 5-10, so.: Grew up playing with former TNT All-Area POY and older sister Nia Alexander, who is now playing at San Francisco, and has many of the same attributes.

LEAGUE PREDICTION

Todd Beamer (21-7 in 2016-17), Auburn Mountainview (12-11), Enumclaw (9-14), Thomas Jefferson (7-14), Auburn (5-14), Federal Way (8-13), Auburn Riverside (21-7), Decatur (3-17).

MARK THE CALENDAR

Dec. 21: Todd Beamer at Eastlake, 7 p.m.

4A SPSL

Rogers
Rogers' Raigan Barrett (2) passes with a hand in her face in the fourth quarter. Rogers High School played Todd Beamer in a basketball game at Puyallup. Joshua Bessex jbessex@gateline.com

FAB FIVE

Guard – Raigan Barrett, Rogers, 5-4, so.: UW softball commit was a prolific scorer a year ago averaging 11.9 ppg, with a team-high 72 assists.

Guard – Jalaiya Frederick, Curtis, 5-3, sr.: The left-hander is one of the most explosive, electric guards around when she’s in rhythm.

Guard – Madeline Garcia, Bellarmine Prep, 5-8, sr.: The one diving on the floor, that’s Garcia, the league’s defensive player of the year last season.

Guard – Jill Harris, Emerald Ridge, 5-9, jr.: Second-team all-league selection a year ago and averaging 17.7 ppg through the early season this year.

Forward – Shalyse Smith, Bellarmine Prep, 6-1, sr.: Reigning 4A SPSL MVP and Arizona signee averaged 15.8 ppg, 11.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks a year ago.

LEAGUE PREDICTION

Bellarmine Prep (26-3 in 2016-17), Curtis (18-8), Rogers (18-8), Sumner (5-15), Emerald Ridge (7-14), Olympia (12-11), Puyallup (12-12), Graham-Kapowsin (0-20)

MARK THE CALENDAR

Dec. 28: Bellarmine Prep at Central Valley, 6 p.m.

CLASS 3A

TEAM TO WATCH

Lincoln is coming off its best season in almost 40 years and returns the 3A Pierce County League’s defensive player of the year in Kondalia Montgomery, who is getting more of a look at point guard this year, even with a standout one next to her in junior Faith Brantley. But it should be well-tested in its league with Bethel returning sisters Tianna and Tiarra Brown, and then there’s Gig Harbor, which returns its top two scorers from a season ago (Brynna Maxwell and Maddie Willett). All three were in the Tacoma Dome last year.

3A PIERCE COUNTY LEAGUE

Tianna Brown
Bethel's Tianna Brown was a TNT first-team All-Area selection a season ago. Joshua Bessex jbessex@gateline.com

FAB FIVE

Guard – Faith Brantley, Lincoln, 5-5, jr.: The only sophomore to earn first-team 3A PCL honors a season ago and helped lead the Abes to the state semifinals for the first time since the 1979-80 season.

Guard – Tianna Brown, Bethel, 5-9, sr.: Coach John Aisnlie calls her “the straw that stirs the drink.” Reigning All-Area pick averaged 18.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.7 steals in run to Tacoma Dome last year.

Guard – Tiarra Brown, Bethel, 5-9, so.: More of a slasher and inside player than older sister, but just as talented. As prolific freshman point guard Esmeralda Morales and there’s a lot to like about Bethel.

Guard – Brooklyn Grant, Wilson, 5-9, jr.: This sharpshooter leads what might not be the tallest team Michelle Birge has coached, nor the most experienced. “What we lack in size … we make up in heart and relentless effort,” Birge said.

Guard – Kondalia Montgomery, Lincoln, 5-7, sr.: Sister Alex Montgomery started 31 games for the San Antonio Stars in the WNBA this past season. Kondalia had triple-double against Wilson (though Alex once had a quintuple-double).

LEAGUE PREDICTION

Lincoln (21-8 in 2016-17), Bethel (20-6), Wilson (16-10), Bonney Lake (9-14), Lakes (13-9), Mt. Tahoma (5-16), Spanaway Lake (3-17), Stadium (8-15).

MARK THE CALENDAR

Jan. 30: Bethel at Lincoln, 7 p.m.

3A SOUTH SOUND CONFERENCE

Brynna Maxwell
Gig Harbor's Brynna Maxwell is a returning first-team TNT All-Area selection from last year. Joshua Bessex jbessex@gateline.com

FAB FIVE

Guard/Forward – Belle Frazier, Peninsula, 6-0, jr.: Can play any spot on the floor. Few players will create as much for their team as Frazier, who averaged 19.8 point last year as a first-team all-league pick.

Guard – Brooklyn Harn, North Thurston, 5-8, jr.: Reigning first-team all-league pick a year ago already has two big-scoring nights on her resume this season, including 33 points (and 10 rebounds) against Mt. Tahoma.

Guard – Brynna Maxwell, Gig Harbor, 5-11, jr.: Can use her height to attack the basket on smaller defenders, or just use her sweet shot. All-Area pick averaged 18 points, eight rebounds, five steals last year.

Forward – Keshara Romain, Timberline, 5-9, sr.: So athletic that she placed third in the triple-jump finals and fourth in long jump at the state track and field championships. Might not be tallest post, but plenty effective. And a standout defensively.

Forward – Maddie Willett, Gig Harbor, 5-11, sr.: Tenacious rebounder, but can also stretch defenses with her 3-point shooting. Earned 3A SSC MVP in Tides’ first trip to Tacoma Dome since 2006.

LEAGUE PREDICTION

Gig Harbor (20-5 in 2016-17), Peninsula (16-8), Timberline (17-8), Capital (5-15), North Thurston (8-15), Yelm (9-14), Shelton (11-11), Central Kitsap (9-12)

MARK THE CALENDAR

Jan. 13: Gig Harbor vs. Garfield, 3 p.m. at Wilson High School

CLASS 2A

TEAM TO WATCH

W.F. West returns too much talent not to come into the season as the favorite, not just in the Evergreen Conference, but the state a season after reaching the 2A state semifinals. It returns two double-digit scorers from a year ago in guards Julia Johnson and Kiara Steen, and a double-digit rebounder to go with them in 6-foot-3 junior Erika Brumfield. But White River and Black Hills, despite both graduating prolific scorers (Kendall Bird is at the University of San Diego and Emma Duff at Western Washington), look like they are still more than capable of making a run at state again.

2A EVERGREEN CONFERENCE

W.F. West
W.F. West's Kiara Steen, in white, steals the ball from Black Hills' Megan River during the Class 2A state tournament.

FAB FIVE

Forward – Erika Brumfield, W.F. West, 6-3, jr.: Averaged eight points and 10 rebounds as a sophomore a season ago, and what makes that so dangerous is she’ll rebound and go, often starting the fastbreak.

Guard – Julia Johnson, W.F. West, 5-5, sr.: One of many returning standout players from the Bearcats’ state-semifinal run from a year ago (before losing to state-champion Lynden). Was a 2A EvCo first-team pick last year.

Guard – Lindsey Nurmi, Black Hills, 5-7, sr.: Returning first-team 2A EvCo selection is a rock as a fourth-year starting point guard. Ball handling and turnover-free game makes Wolves go.

Guard – Kiara Steen, W.F. West, 5-2, sr.: One of three players who were averaging in double figures for the Bearcats a season ago, and one of two from that group who are back for another run at this

Post – Maisy Williams, Black Hills, 6-0, jr.: Can control a game in the post, or step out on the wing. Reigning first-team all-league pick averaged 11.2 points, eight rebounds, three blocks last year.

LEAGUE PREDICTION

W.F. West (22-5 in 2016-17), Black Hills (23-3), Centralia (11-11), Rochester (3-15), Tumwater (11-10), Aberdeen (6-14)

MARK THE CALENDAR

Jan. 18: W.F. West at Black Hills, 7 p.m.

2A SPSL MOUNTAIN

FAB FIVE

Guard – Georgia Lavinder, White River, 5-8, sr: Smooth shooting helped White River reach the 2A state quarterfinals a season ago, but expect more of a lead role this year.

Guard – Sofia Lavinder, White River, 5-8, sr.: Georgia’s twin sister was also an all-league selection a season ago. Their scoring will be key to replacing reigning All-Area player of the year Kendall Bird.

Alani Sinclair, Lindbergh, 6-0, sr.: Part of Lindbergh’s twin towers. Averaged 9.2 points, 10 rebounds, 3.2 blocks per game a season ago to earn second-team all-league honors.

Elle Watts, Lindbergh, 6-1, jr.: Averaged a double-double last year with 13.6 points, 10.1 rebounds per game, to go with 3.2 blocks as a first-team 2A SPSL Mountain all-league pick.

Guard – Christina Willis, Fife, 5-3, sr.: Returning 2A SPSL Mountain first-team all-league pick (a two-time first-team selection). Speed, athleticism should keep the Trojans in the hunt for the league title.

LEAGUE PREDICTION

White River (25-4 in 2016-17), Fife (16-10), Foster (7-10), Lindbergh (16-10), Franklin Pierce (16-10), Washington (6-13), Foss (3-17), Evergreen (0-16)

MARK THE CALENDAR

Jan. 13: W.F. West at White River, 6 p.m.

2A SPSL SOUND

Steilacoom
Alex Montgomery makes a point during practice at Steilacoom High School Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016. Montgomery plays in the WNBA with the San Antonio Stars but is helping coach Steilacoom while she is in her off season. Montgomery graduated from Lincoln High School before playing college basketball at Georgia Tech. David Montesino dmontesino@thenewstribune.com

FAB FIVE

Tori Allen, Renton, 5-11, sr.: Returning 2A SPSL all-league selection is also a team captain for team that fell just short of reaching the state playoffs a season ago.

Guard – Leah Clardy, Steilacoom, 5-10, sr.: Few players were as excited for their new coach, WNBA guard Alex Montgomery, last year than Clardy, who returns after earning first-team all-league honors.

Guard – Mia Flores, River Ridge, 5-4, so.: You could see the high basketball IQ and court presence in the starting guard even as a freshman a season ago. So what now with a year of experience?

Guard – Sammie Swartout, Eatonville, 5-8, jr.: Led the Cruisers in scoring and assists a year ago (14 points, six rebounds, 3 assists) to earn first-team all-league honors. Best shooter, but can also play the point.

Guard – Caitlin Yenne, River Ridge, 5-8, sr.: Reigning 2A SPSL Sound MVP after earning first-team all-league honors the season prior. Solid combination of speed and 3-point shot makes her a tough matchup.

LEAGUE PREDICTION

Renton (16-7), , Eatonville (17-7), Steilacoom (8-15), River Ridge (17-7), Orting (7-13), Highline (8-12), Tyee (2-18), Clover Park (1-19)

MARK THE CALENDAR

Jan. 23: Eatonville at Renton, 7 p.m.

SMALL SCHOOLS

TEAM TO WATCH

Charles Wright isn’t so young like it was last year. Eight of its players are back, and all five starters. The problem is that eighth-year coach Kate Rue will have to figure out how to a staunch 1A Nisqually League that includes Bellevue Christian and Seattle Christian. And maybe Life Christian can find a way to get to state for the first time since the 2004-05 season under Mark Lovelady. Yes, he’s still the boys coach (even though his son, Luke Lovelady, graduated and is now at Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego), but he’s pulling double-duty this year, which means he gets to coach his daughter, sophomore Landyn Lovelady.

FAB FIVE

Post – Shalaine Lorenz, Cascade Christian, 5-8, sr.: One of two returning starters from the Cougars’ team last year. Gets after it defensively and efficient inside, which earned her second-team all-league last year.

Guard – Hannah Peterson, Tacoma Baptist, 5-3, jr.: Coach Beth Wing, a former Gonzaga guard, won’t sugar coat the challenges this team has in replacing its top seven players from a year ago, when the Crusaders were 24-0 entering state. But Peterson is a young bright spot.

Post – RubyJoy Pikes, Charles Wright, 5-8, jr.: Before going down with a concussion, Pikes was averaging 14 points and 14 rebounds per game. Coach Kate Rue, a former UW women’s basketball player, love Pikes’ explosive rebounding and speed in open court.

Guard – Julianna Walker, Annie Wright, 5-4, fr.: So this freshman ... through the first four games of her high school career she had scored 43, 36, 24, and 37 points in a 4-0 Gators start and earned WIAA athlete of the week.

Guard – Alea Yun, Life Christian, 5-8, jr.: She was a second-team all-league pick a year ago, averaging 12.7 points. But she led the Eagles to a state soccer title, so why not some success in basketball, too.

MARK THE CALENDAR

Feb. 2: Charles Wright at Bellevue Christian, 6:30 p.m.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677

Twitter: @TJCotterill

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