Not only did the Loggers graduate a large group of seniors off a team that had just won the league title and finished fifth at state, but longtime coach Ben Bryson was stepping down and there were only three upperclassmen coming up, including no juniors.
The Loggers looked ripe for the picking.
But those around the program, including new coach Jeff Anderson, knew better.
Relying on a group of six sophomores who have been playing together since they could barely dribble, Anderson guided the Loggers to the verge of the state tournament in his inaugural season. This year, that group, now juniors, has Darrington off to a 10-2 start, including a 43-37 win over La Conner, which at 8-2 is the Loggers' main threat at keeping them from their second league title in three years.
"I think a lot of teams thought when that group of seniors leave Darrington is going to be down, but I knew we weren't going to be down," Anderson said of the 2010 group. "I hate to say I expected this because you never know, but I knew the girls had the mental toughness and will to do this."
If anyone knows this team it's Anderson. The second-year coach has been coaching the group of six juniors -- which includes his own daughter, Riley, Monica Franke, Casandra Cousins, Devan Wilson, Amy Miles and Madison Schoneman -- since they were in the third grade. He realized early on that these girls could be special.
"When they were in DJAA (Darrington Junior Athletic Association) when we played in Arlington we very seldom lost and that's not typical when we play Arlington," Anderson said. "Even when they were in third and fourth grade they were running plays for me at that level."
That continuity -- Anderson said that between this year's junior and sophomore classes only one player has left the group since they were kids -- has led to a familiarity that comes in quite handy in the game of basketball.
"We're more like sisters than teammates," said Riley Anderson, who is the team's de facto spokesperson. "I know what she's going to do when she goes to the basket and I know that she's going to pass when she looks away. We just know what we're going to do."
Last year as sophomores they had their growing pains. Even though there were three seniors on the team, including all-league post Jessica Brooks, the group of sophomores took up the mantle of leadership. But the physical disparity and inexperience showed at times. That experience has paid big dividends now and has the Loggers thinking state.
"This group came in as sophomores and played a lot of varsity ball," Anderson said. "It was rough early, but that's helped a lot now."
Ever since they were kids, Miles has been the team's natural leader on the court -- "We all look to her," said Devan Wilson -- and its most prolific scorer, but it almost didn't happen. Anderson said he had to actually talk the soft-spoken Miles into playing when she was a kid. He's glad he was able to persuade her.
"You could see it when she was younger," Anderson said of Miles' natural ability. "She's just an athlete. That's just something you can't coach."
One thing the group of girls learned was dissension and negativity sows defeat.
"We had a bad snowball effect: we'd start the game's bad and it would lead to a bad result," said Miles, who leads the Loggers in scoring averaging nearly 12 points per game. "This year we've changed it and it's worked for us so far."
A good example of that was the Dec. 28 game against 4A Mount Vernon. The Loggers, playing against a team four classifications above them and physically bigger than them, fell behind early and trailed by 18 at halftime. But instead of hanging their heads, the Loggers rallied in the second half and actually closed the gap to just four points before losing a tight contest.
"We've seen that from other teams at state," said Franke, who also emphasized that the junior group has also made the underclassmen feel like a part of the team as well. "They're bad attitudes brought them down and they got mad at each other and you can't do that and win."
They've even brought one teammate back from desertion. Madison Schoneman, who grew up playing with the group, returned this year to basketball after taking a year off to cheer as a sophomore.
"I missed my team," said Schoneman.
This year's team is one in a long line of successful girls basketball teams to come out of Darrington. The Loggers have been to state 15 times since 1983, including a stretch of six appearances in eight years starting in 1989.
Besides a strong youth program, Anderson chalks up the success of Darrington basketball to parent and fan support. "Parents are very involved in the girls sports here," Anderson said. "They travel with them, help fundraise and support them. The parents have a lot to do with these girls' success."
Riley Anderson said that support was obvious during the biggest game of the season so far.
"When we played La Conner our crowd was just as big as their's and we were on their court," Riley said. "Whenever we can hear (our crowd) it makes us feel at home."
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