Lake Stevens senior Brooke Pahukoa had helped lead her team to three district championships in as many years -- and in her final season, the Vikings were going for the clean sweep.
They also were looking to get back to the Tacoma Dome after a disappointing loss to eventual state champion Skyview in last year's state regional round.
In the end, the Vikings achieved only one of their two goals. They fell short of the district title, but advanced to Tacoma. And once there, they went on a run that took them all the way to the Class 4A state semifinals and ultimately a fifth-place trophy. "I would always take placing at state over winning a district championship," Brooke's teammate and twin sister, Brittney Pahukoa, said.
For her contributions to the Vikings' success this season, Brooke Pahukoa is The Herald's 2013 Girls Basketball Player of the Year for the second consecutive year.
The Vikings earning a state trophy was expected by many at the start of the season, but the path the Vikings took to earn their hardware wasn't.
Things started out simple enough. After three games, Lake Stevens was 3-0 with winning margins of 29, 46 and 18 points. Then they faced the Arlington Eagles. Arlington was on its way to a 14-0 start and dismissed the Vikings, 77-51.
The loss to the Eagles was the first of six losses in 11 games for the Vikings. In the middle of that stretch Lake Stevens lost Brooke, a guard, to a dislocated pinkie finger on her shooting hand. At first head coach Randall Edens thought the injury would keep her out just a few days. She wound up missing six games.
"I don't want to say it set me back too much because I don't think it did," Brooke said of the injury. "If anything, it was a lot more positive for me personally and my team. I wasn't so tired by the end of the season like I usually am. My body was pretty fresh and my mindset was pretty fresh."
For the first week that Brooke was out, she didn't have to watch from the sidelines. She spent that week home sick with bronchitis. When she returned to the bench, it was difficult to sit and observe, but the experience proved valuable.
"I saw a lot more than I did when I was playing," she said. "For the last three years I have been playing big chunks of minutes for us so I've never seen the sight from the bench and seen the simple passes that you would think we would make that we just weren't looking at. ... It was refreshing."
For her part, Brittney missed having her sister on the court.
"When Brooke got hurt I was like, 'Wait I have to play without her? That doesn't seem right,'" Brittney said. "What am I supposed to do? Having her come back and everything, it meant a lot because I'm a different player when I play with her. I feel a lot more comfortable when she is on the floor with me."
After losing in the district semifinals, Lake Stevens rebounded to reach the regional play-in game. The Vikings beat Newport in that contest, setting up a rematch with Kentwood in the state quarterfinals. The Vikings had thumped the Conquerors 65-47 in the third game of the season.
In the second meeting with Kentwood, Brooke had one of the best games of her high school career, scoring 34 points in a 52-36 victory.
"One of the more remarkable things I have seen," Edens said of Brooke's performance. "Even though she had 42 against (Marysville Pilchuck), Kentwood, I think, she was just in one of those zones where it seemed like everything that she was going to throw up there was going in."
Next up for the Vikings was Arlington. Each team came in with a win against the other and this one would decide not only the season series, but a spot in the state-title game.
For much of the game it looked like that spot would go to the Vikings, but the Eagles chipped away at the difference in the fourth quarter. Arlington eventually took a 56-53 lead in the final seconds, setting the stage for one of the most dramatic moments of the tournament. Brittney Pahukoa raced down the floor and pulled up for a straight-away 3-pointer in front of the raucous Tacoma Dome crowd. The ball fell through the net as time expired, sending the game into overtime.
For all the success Brooke enjoyed, that was her favorite moment of the season: Watching her sister getting mobbed at the foul line. Recalling the scene brings tears to her eyes.
"When someone hits me, I'm mad," Brooke said. "When someone hits my sister, I'm furious. I'm off my rails. I can't handle it. When I'm proud of myself, I'm proud. When I'm proud of my sister, it brings me to tears, every time. So that moment will definitely stand out the most, always."
Although the shot seemed to give Lake Stevens a jolt of momentum heading into overtime, Arlington held on for a 66-64 victory.
Now that their high school careers are over, the twins can set their sights on next season, when they will attend Boise State and continue their basketball careers with the Broncos.
"I think the biggest thing for me and my sister is that we are going to have to start working out more," Brooke said. "We work out every day. We have a weightlifting class, but the difference between high school and college (is) they are going to be big and they are going to be physical and that's something that you don't understand until you get there. I know that's going to be a big thing in the summer for us, just bulking up a little bit so that we are not itty-bitty."
Brooke credited her coaches with helping her get where she is. Edens and assistant coaches Gil McKinnie, Steve Berg and Kristina Schumacher have all played a role in her maturing process over the past four seasons.
"They have helped me grow as a player and person on many different occasions throughout my career and I cherish their friendship and guidance," Brooke said.
Watching that growth from year to year has been fun for Edens and his staff.
"It's just kind of one of those dream scenarios where we knew for both of them coming in that they were spectacular athletes, but they were still really raw and had a lot of their game still to refine yet," Edens said. "If you would have told me for them as freshmen to be where they are now as seniors, especially where Brooke is at this point, I would have had a really tough time believing it.
"Winning back-to-back player of the year awards is a testament to that growth."
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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