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David Krueger and Herald staff | dkrueger@heraldnet.com
Published: Saturday, December 31, 2011, 2:49 a.m.

Mountlake Terrace making all the right moves as the midseason approaches

As the midway point of the high school boys basketball season approaches teams are starting to stake claim to what kind of team they really are as the season progresses toward the playoffs. As I cover game after game for The Herald I often find myself asking the question of who I think the best team is that I have seen so far in the season.

Friday night I got my answer.

I have covered Wesco North games, Wesco South games and Wesco 3A games. Along the way I have seen many teams that I have walked away impressed by. Kamiak has a solid basketball team, Jackson is very good and Jason Todd might be the best player in Wesco. Lake Stevens is solid and Snohomish appears to be the best team in the north, Glacier Peak can be impressive on any given night behind Zach Pederson and Shorewood is very good as well.

But Friday night one team rose straight to the top. The Mountlake Terrace Hawks are without a doubt in my mind the best team in any of the Wesco divisions. The Hawks improved to 9-0 on the season by dismantling the Snohomish Panthers 63-41 to win the Mountlake Terrace Holiday Tournament. This wasn't just any old game. Both teams came into the season undefeated and both teams were ranked in state. The Panthers had rose all the way to No.4 in the 4A rankings.

Knowing Mountlake Terrace coach Nalin Sood, he probably doesn't want too much undue attention drawn to his team. But knowing the character of him and his players, me saying that they are unequivocally the best team that I have seen so far this season won't have any effect on them. That is part of their greatness. The Hawks don't buy into in hype and they have a cast of players that is as unselfish as they come.

Much of the attention for the Hawks was bestowed upon Ryan Shannon when the season began. Shannon, a great basketball player in his own right, was a transfer from Marysville Pilchuck in the offseason. Many thought that with Shannon, the Hawks would be the favorites in the Wesco 3A. They were right, but it is not specifically because of Shannon. At Terrace, Shannon is just another player on a great team. And that is not a knock on Shannon, that is a compliment of how good the Hawks really are.

There are a lot of teams out there that do a lot of things well, but every team that I have seen so far this season has at least one thing that you can call out as a weakness, at least in the particular game that I watched.

Not the Hawks.

First of all they play team defense better than any team I have seen. And at the risk of using an old adage, defense does win championships. They held an explosive Snohomish team to 41 points, they held Shorecrest in the 30's and they even held Marysville Getchell to 17 points. I know Getchell is in its first year competing at the varsity level, but holding any team to 17 points is an accomplishment.

They have great individual defenders. This is where Shannon stands out the most to me. I knew, just like everyone else, that Shannon could score, but I didn't know he could play defense like this. Watching him guard Snohomish's leading scorer Luke Hamlin was like watching a clinic on how to play defense. He shut Hamlin down. But it wasn't just Shannon, Blake Fernandez and Marquis Armstead did an equally good job on the Panthers standout guard.

The defense doesn't just stop teams, they create offense too. Fernandez scored 12 points in the first half of Friday's win over Snohomish and most of them came off steals.

And when the Hawks have to play offense, they execute as flawlessly as possible. No one player takes on the majority of the scoring load and they all get shots through the offensive sets. If they miss a shot, Coby Russell or Greg Bowman are often there to clean up the mess.

After going through almost half of the regular-season games without a loss, it is fair to wonder if the Hawks will lose a game. I can't answer that question. The Wesco 3A league is very good. But Mountlake Terrace has as good of a shot as anyone.

And what matters the most is that this team looks like they have all the ingredients to make a deep postseason run. When it's time for me to go to Tacoma and cover the state tournaments in March. This reporter expects to see the Hawks there. If they can keep up the unselfishness and cohesiveness that they have exhibited so far this season, they might make some noise when they get there.

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