When Brynna Maxwell and Belle Frazier walked into tryouts as fourth graders for Vanessa McClendon’s AAU team, the Northwest Magic, McClendon couldn’t have imagined that the duo would go on to be two of the most prolific high school players the Gig Harbor area has ever seen.
She wasn’t even sure they should be playing basketball.
“I remember telling my husband, ‘Maybe they should just play soccer, or another sport,’” McClendon said with a laugh.
Fortunately, they stuck with basketball and developed a friendship in the process.
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At Gig Harbor High School, Brynna Maxwell led the Tides the school’s first state 3A title last year, scoring 31 points in the championship game against Garfield. She recently passed 1,500 career points, holds a handful of school records and is headed to Utah on a scholarship.
Frazier has been a four-year star for Peninsula High School, and was recognized as the Most Valuable Player last season in the Class 3A South Sound Conference. She helped the Seahawks to their first trip to the state tournament in 29 years last season. And she will also be playing Div. I basketball, having recently signed her NLI with Portland State University.
They’ve come a long way from fourth grade, when Maxwell was known as the girl who wore goofy goggles and Frazier as the girl who sported pigtails.
“They didn’t quite pass the eye test,” McClendon said.
Frazier and Maxwell bonded in the first tryout during conditioning drills.
“We were running so many lines,” Maxwell said. “She was just crying. We kind of bonded over how much we disliked that running drill and we’ve been friends ever since.”
That’s not to say there was never any tension between the two. Part of why they’ve been so good in high school is their competitiveness. That can be a real asset on the court but an obstacle off it.
“We started out as competitors,” Frazier said. “We didn’t always like each other. We’ve gone through periods where we don’t really like each other, because we’re always competing against each other.”
Like when Frazier would tell Maxwell that her basketball was better, because Maxwell’s ball was heavier.
Or when Frazier would spend time at Maxwell’s house. Even when they weren’t outside, they were still playing basketball, on a mini-hoop, hanging from the door of Maxwell’s room.
“Oh my word, we’d have the most intense games of one-on-one on that stupid mini-hoop,” Frazier said. “We’d break it off the door and her parents would have to buy a new one, because we were going at is so hard.”
Their relationship helped both of them become better players, McClendon said.
“When I got them in fourth grade, they were both such different players,” McClendon said. “What was consistent was they just wanted to be better and get better. Their eyes were wide open. They pushed each other. Naturally, they just became competitors.”
With Maxwell, the thing that stood out to McClendon (besides the goggles), was her unparalleled work ethic. With Frazier, it was her ability to soak things up quickly and her desire to attain her goals.
As Frazier and Maxwell improved, the Northwest Magic team improved. The program saw a lot of the same opponents over the years. In fifth grade, the team was losing a lot of their games by 50 points. In sixth grade, they trimmed it to the 30-point losses. In seventh grade, they were going to toe-to-toe with those teams.
“By eighth grade, we were beating the same teams that we had been losing to, and beating them by 30, 40 points.”
At that point, the players on the team started to get a little overconfident.
“I needed them to lose,” McClendon said. “They hadn’t lost in months.”
So she put the team in an all-boys recreation league, hoping they’d get pushed around by the stronger boys.
The girls went 12-0 that season.
“That’s when I realized there might be something special here,” McClendon said. “That’s when I realized Brynna and Belle could be college players.”
Then high school came. While the two were used to playing against other in practice, playing against in each other for their respective high school teams was a new challenge.
“It was different,” Maxwell said. “You kind of had to wrap your mind around it, when you played against each other, just thinking, ‘She’s not my friend right now. This is my rival, we have to come out and play hard.’ You just have to change your whole mindset.”
In their high school careers, Frazier and Peninsula have never beat Maxwell and Gig Harbor.
“It’s so frustrating,” Frazier said.
Especially this season. Peninsula (13-3 overall, 10-1 South Sound Conference 3A) looked in control for much of the first meeting against Gig Harbor (13-4, 10-1) on Jan. 9. But then Maxwell, who scored a game-high 35 points, scored the game-winner with less than 15 seconds to go in the game.
“I thought for sure we had that game,” Frazier said. “I think our team just gets so hyped up and tense. You have to remember it’s just another game. That’s what we keep telling ourselves.”
She paused for a second.
“But it’s not just another game,” Frazier said.
Barring a playoff meeting between the two teams, Maxwell and Frazier will square off against each other for the final time in their high school careers in the regular season finale at Peninsula High School, at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.
“It’s kind of cool we haven’t lost to them but it’s kind of like, now the pressure is on,” Maxwell said. “We just beat them, kind of at the buzzer, and they’re really mad. They want to come back. It’s on their home court. We want to finish strong. The pressure is on and we have to be ready to go because they’re going to come out fired up.”
Maxwell, too, knows that it’s not just another game, no matter how many cliches get tossed around by the coaches.
“It’s going to be kind of bittersweet,” Maxwell said. “You kind of want to have that mindset of, ‘It’s just another game.’ But in the back of my mind, I know it’s my last time playing against Belle. It’ll be my last time on the court with her. It’s kind of sad. I don’t really want to think about it right now. I’m just going to try to enjoy the last moments I have playing with her.”