After winning the district championship, the Vikings drew Skyview, the eventual 4A state champion, in the regional round of the state tournament. The Storm defeated Lake Stevens 72-56, ending the Vikings' season with just their second loss.
Now Lake Stevens finds itself headed to the Tacoma Dome for the state quarterfinals on Thursday. Led by senior twins Brooke and Brittney Pahukoa, the Vikings are focused on a happier outcome than a year ago.
"Last year, oh my goodness. It really was a good motivation to work as hard as we could this year," Brittney Pahukoa said. "I know it's our last year. So the seniors of course, were all, 'we're going to do this.' But it's not just the seniors. The whole team is working hard. Sometimes you just have the seniors that want it, but it's really the whole team."
The Pahukoas are two of the four seniors on Lake Stevens, along with Mallory Gipson and Chelsea Pahls. All have stepped up at various times this season, Vikings' head coach Randall Edens said.
To listen to a podcast with Vikings head coach Edens and the Pahukoa sisters, click here.
"A big part of it is sometimes we get in the mode of allowing Brooke and Brittney to do their thing. Our other two seniors, Mallory and Chelsea, have done a lot for us this season," Edens said. "They do a lot of stuff that doesn't end up in the box score."
Brooke and Brittney Pahukoa do a good job of filling up the box score. Brooke averages 19.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 3.1 steals per contest. Brittney adds 10.4 points, 5.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds and three steals per game.
Together, the two players with commitments to Boise State have helped Lake Stevens return to the state tournament for the fourth consecutive year.
"It's just one of those things for them. I know personally it's meant a lot to try to get them back there (to the state tournament)," Edens said. "For everything they've given to our program."
For Edens, it's the seventh time in the past eight years he has coached the Vikings to the Tacoma Dome -- although,he's quick to deflect the credit for that accomplishment.
"The Pahukoas have been a part of a pretty special run," Edens said. "It's more about having some pretty special players. Especially their senior year. It's a pretty sweet ending for them, no question about it."
The Pahukoas senior year has had its share of bumps and bruises. And dislocated pinkies. Brooke injured her pinkie on her shooting hand at a holiday tournament in Spokane at the end of December. She still has the finger taped to her ring finger during games.
Edens said adjusting for Brooke's six-game absence was difficult, but that it should payoff now in the postseason.
"Now we can throw in some of our bench players and not be nervous about it because they've been in some big moments," Edens said. "We knew in the end it was going to benefit us in the playoffs and it certainly has. I think in a state tournament scenario, when you play three games in three days, it's huge because we can't ask our five players to play 25-30 minutes every day in that stretch. There's going to be a comfort level for us there that, hey, we can sit some of our core kids if we have to and get them some rest."
On the sidelines, Brooke also looked on the brightside.
"I actually think there's a lot of positives, not just for me but for my team when I was out," said Brooke, The Herald's girls basketball player of the year in 2012.
"I saw the game in a different way. I saw a lot of things I wanted to change when I got back. I think my team really stepped up. It's hard to adjust to change, but they figured out what their roles were. My sister was a huge part in that. (Junior forward) Kali Long has grown into an amazing leader. Personally, I think there were more positives than negatives."
The adversity helped Lake Stevens, which took a bit more of a winding route to Tacoma this season. After losing to Lynnwood in the district semifinals, Lake Stevens had to work its way through the consolation bracket. It won two loser-out games to clinch the district's third seed, which earned the Vikings a state regionals play-in game against Newport, the No. 3 team from the Kingco league.
Lake Stevens defeated the Knights 48-43 on their home court and then won its regionals game against Davis 54-34 at Wenatchee High School. It was the Vikings fourth straight loser-out game.
"It's amazing," Brooke Pahukoa said. "I wasn't sure if it was going to happen. I just feel blessed and excited for the opportunity to go back there. We've had four loser-out games. I like the way this has gone and I hate to waste this opportunity. Personally, I treat every game like it could be the last one. To me, the way I think of a game is not any different. The team has bought into that, too. They've rose to the occasion every game. We don't want the season to end."
Getting to the Tacoma Dome ensured Lake Stevens will play at least two more games this season. Their first game at the Dome on Thursday pits the Vikings against a familiar foe: Kentwood.
Lake Stevens defeated the Conquerors 65-47 when the two teams met in the Les Schwab Preview at Highline Community College on Dec. 8. In that game, Brittney Pahukoa had a career-high 25 points.
"As soon as I knew we were playing Kentwood I was trying to remember the game and everything that happened," she said. "Then I saw I scored 25 points. That's probably my highest score ever. I thought, 'I remember that game. Our team played well.'"
Lake Stevens expects the Conquerors, who defeated Lynnwood 61-60 in double overtime to get to Tacoma, will be a much different team than the first time the Vikings saw them.
"We're playing them like we haven't played them before," Brooke Pahukoa said. "It was confidence building, but it was so early in the year."
While the team is taking it one game at a time, the Pahukoas have a definitive goal for their final high school state tournament.
"All through high school I've always wanted to win state," Brittney Pahukoa said. "We went as freshmen, finished fourth my sophomore year. Then there was that little fluke of last year. My goal is always to get to the Tacoma Dome and then win that first game, be able to place. Then win the next game. Then, after that, win the next game."
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