Most likely to succeed: Stanwood
The Spartans are returning one starter from last year's squad that made it to the 4A state regionals, and that player, senior Rachel Swartz, has yet to practice due to an injured foot.
However, Stanwood is now in the 3A conference, and isn't quite sure what to expect from its opponents, or its team. The Spartans are dipping from their talented pool of junior varsity players that got a little varsity experience last year and are hoping they can make the leap.
"They got some experience early in the season last year," Stanwood head coach Dennis Kloke said. "They weren't full-time varsity players in the rotation, but every day last year they went against the seniors."
Most likely to surprise: Everett
The Everett girls team has showed consistent improvement the past couple years. Four years ago they had back-to-back 3-17 seasons, before moving out of the Wesco North, where they had to face strong 4A programs, and into to the Wesco 3A league. Since then, the Seagulls have gone 13-7 and followed that up with a 12-8 campaign last season.
"It put us in a position where we were in the middle of the league, instead of the bottom," said Everett head coach John Low. "And even though we had one less win last year, we still showed growth."
And Low believes his team will continue to improve.
"We need to continue to build the program," he said, "and we're going in the right direction"
Most likely to score 40: Rachel Swartz, Stanwood
Swartz is the lone returning starter from last year's Spartan team, but won't be starting for Stanwood until at least a few games in. The 6-foot-3 senior post has a cracked metatarsal that's putting pressure on her Achilles. She's being evaluated today, but even if she's cleared will still need the WIAA-required 10 practices before she can rejoin her team.
Kloke is looking forward to that day.
"She gives us height and length," Kloke said. "At 6-3 she also has really long arms and is very agile. She runs the court well. Last year she was developing a perimeter 10-12 foot jump shot, which also really helps her score because she's so tall and hard to guard out there."
Most likely to get caught stealing: Kiki Harper, Everett
Harper, along with Darian and Sidney Rielly, make up the three Everett defenders who are known for harassing opposing teams' ball handlers. Low has very high praise for his senior defender.
"I would be willing to bet that Kiki might be the fastest player in the league," Low said.
Low said Harper just goes out and tries to get the ball. She led Everett in steals last season, with 56 (an average of 2.5 per game). Low believes that the Seagulls' intense defensive pressure helps lead to turnovers and, ultimately, sparks their offense.
"What we do definitely starts with our defense and leads to a lot of offense," Low said.
Most likely to succeed: Glacier Peak
The Grizzlies lost four seniors last year that head coach Brian Hill said "contributed a lot." The departure of those players, three of which are now playing college ball, has opened up a chance for younger Glacier Peak players to contribute. The Grizzlies will get help from last year's undefeated junior varsity team, as well as returning players Taylor Baird, Allie Weathersby and Sadie Mensing.
Baird, along with 6-foot-4 post Nikki Fausey, has Hill thinking that the Grizzlies might change up their style and work in more post play this season.
"We've kind of been guard-oriented for the last couple years," Hill said. "(Fausey's) going to give us a good post presence."
Most likely to surprise: Mountlake Terrace
The Hawks not only play hard, they leave an impression on opposing coaches.
"I remember telling (Mountlake Terrace head coach) Dave (Brophy) after a game, and then I told the girls in one of their huddles, 'I like you guys,'" Hill said. "They play hard. They don't quit. They don't complain."
Terrace, which is led by all-Wesco 3A honorable mentions Maddie Kristjanson and Taylor Smith, was pretty young last season. But Hill thinks their experience last year will only make them tougher to beat in 2012.
"They were lacking the experience. But they'll have that this year and they're still going to be fast and they're still going to shoot," Hill said. "… I wouldn't be surprised if they were to win some games this year and give some teams a little bit of a fit."
Most likely to score 40: Masha Shtikel, Shorewood
"I think she scored 20 on us every time we played her. She just has an eye for the hoop," said Hill. "She can shoot from the outside. She's strong, physical. She can score."
Shtikel was a second-team All-Wesco 3A selection after her junior season.
Hill said Shtikel is the kind of player that can "take over a game," and provide a spark for her team. The post is going into her senior season, which makes Hill and other opposing coaches happy.
"She might be a senior. I hope she's a senior," Hill said.
Most likely to get caught stealing: Sarah Smith, Glacier Peak
Smith was so fast and tough on defense that she earned a nickname last year as a sophomore guard coming off the bench for the Grizzlies.
"She's fast as lightning. My dad nicknamed her 'The Flying Squirrel' last year," Hill said. "She's just everywhere."
This season, Smith will be counted on to a bit more for the Grizzlies who graduated a couple starting guards. Hill thinks that with more time on the court, the Flying Squirrel can do even more damage defensively.
"Her time was a little bit limited, but she got in the game and she definitely helped pick up the defensive part for sure," Hill said. "She's just quick and tough."
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