Kevin Meines knows what others might think of his Bellarmine Prep girls basketball team.
“On paper, you look at our team,” Meines said, “and you’d think, ‘They’re OK.’ ”
Part of why folks might underestimate the Lions is their recent state tournament history. They are in the Class 4A quarterfinals Thursday against Inglemoor, and back playing in the Tacoma Dome for the first time since 2011.
In their past nine state trips, they have won an opening-round game just three times, the last coming in 2010 with a 65-55 win over Moses Lake.
When Bellarmine Prep has won an opener, it never has been able to back it up with a second-day victory under Meines.
But what might set this particular Lions team apart — one that captured the 4A Narrows League title for an eighth consecutive season — is that the personnel is kind of quirky. Consider:
• Their star player, 6-foot-4 senior Claire Martin, is a volleyball signee at Washington State University.
• Their next-best player is a ninth-grader — forward Shalyse Smith.
• And their most disruptive wing player, junior Jayana Ervin, is learning on the fly how to be a starting point guard.
It’s obvious that despite this team’s weaknesses or imperfections, it has a some sort of intangible X-factor to help overcome those obstacles. Whatever it is, it works.
“We’ve had a lot of talented teams, especially during that run where we got to state six years in a row (2005-2010). But we were kind of a step or two behind the serious contenders, and we had a mentality of a team struggling to put it all together,” Meines said.
“This year’s team, we have the right mix of kids that not only have skills that complement one another, they have bought into the idea of not having a superstar.”
For all the rotating pieces the Lions have on the perimeter, their biggest advantage is what Martin and Smith can do and how they feed off each other.
Both are fast-moving, quick-reading post players who have a knack for always knowing where the other one is or going to be.
“Honestly, in the first practice I knew I wanted to do well this year, so I knew we had to create a bond early on,” Martin said. “She is mature for her age. Right now, she is my best friend.”
And Meines can make them interchangeable, particularly in the high post.
“They really enjoy playing with each other,” Meines said. “You’ve got two kids who are very hard to handle on the offensive end.”
A case can be made that Smith has been the team’s best player over the second half of the season. At 5-foot-11, she already has the body of a college freshman. And the bigger the game, the better her skill set comes into play.
“At the beginning of the season, I didn’t really know my role on this team,” Smith said. “But in the first couple of games, I figured out what we have to do to win.”
And the best part of the season?
“Winning,” she said with a straight face.
Meines knew he might have a special group on his hands going into the season. But he was convinced of it after Bellarmine Prep went 2-1 in the MaxPreps tournament in California. One of those wins was against Class 3A contender West Seattle.
“We’ve just all come together,” Martin said. “It fits. And it works.”
Added Meines: “The vibe around this team just feels different.”