Hawks fly back to state behind post duo

Rather than focus on what they didn’t have returning this season, the Mountlake Terrace boys basketball team forged ahead with what it did have: two great post players.

Those players, Greg Bowman and Loren LaCasse, have provided leadership for the Hawks — along with quite a few points and rebounds — while leading Mountlake Terrace to its fourth consecutive state appearance.

“They’re two different types of kids,” said Mountlake Terrace head coach Nalin Sood. “Greg’s more of a quieter leader. He leads by example. When Greg says something people listen. Loren’s (more) fiery, intense. He’s going to demand things from people and not let them down. They just feed off each other.”

The duo, along with fellow seniors Yoel Tekle and Yonnas Tewolde, have helped mitigate the loss of seven seniors from last year’s squad that finished fourth in 3A – including starting guards Jesse Zerom, Marquis Armstead and Blake Fernandez.

Bowman and LaCasse, both first team All-Wesco 3A selections last season as juniors, knew they’d need to have larger roles this season if Mountlake Terrace was going to continue its recent success. The posts excelled, helping the Hawks get back to the regional round of the state tournament.

“I knew we’d be successful,” LaCasse said. “We had me and Greg returning, Yoel and a lot of JV players that had good minutes last year. We did lose a lot of seniors — Blake, Marquis and all of them — and it’s hard to replace them because they’re such good guards. Greg and I had to step up and take the shooting role and do a lot more than just playing the post.”

Bowman, who officially has a one-inch height advantage at LaCasse at 6-foot-7, proves that each game when he starts making baskets from beyond the 3-point arc. LaCasse can shoot the three as well, making the Mountlake Terrace posts a matchup problem for many teams.

“Usually posts are more stuck in the paint, and teams usually don’t have to worry about guarding the perimeter,” Bowman said. “But with Loren and myself — and Yoel even a little bit — I think they have to worry about the perimeter and it opens stuff up for other guys.”

Like LaCasse, Tekle is listed at 6-foot-6, giving the Hawks three large posts to start the game. It’s a bit different from last season, when Mountlake Terrace looked to guards like Fernandez and Armstead to get its offense going.

Now, the Hawks are looking to their big men in the post to score points. And they’re usually pretty easy to find.

“We’re big down low and we like to bang down low, so it’s hard for a lot of teams to guard us,” LaCasse said. “We’ve just got to be tough. Have the toughest mindset. If we do, I don’t think anybody can stop us in the paint because we’re big. We’ve got a lot of big players and that can take us as far as we want to.”

Thanks in large part to Bowman and LaCasse, the Hawks clinched a fourth-straight state berth after a 70-53 win over Marysville Pilchuck on Friday night. Both players had double-doubles in the game, with Bowman scoring 23 points and grabbing 16 rebounds and LaCasse finishing with 20 points and 17 rebounds.

With the win, Mountlake Terrace got the No. 3 seed out of the 3A District 1 tournament and a regional matchup with Wilson, the No. 4 team in the most recent Associated Press 3A poll, at Mt. Tahoma High School Saturday at 4 p.m.

“It’s one game at a time, but we all had it in the back of our mind that we wanted to get to regionals,” Bowman said. “And eventually the (Tacoma) Dome too.”

Unheralded to start his high school career, LaCasse has grown into an integral part of the Mountlake Terrace team. After struggling a bit in the first half of the season, Sood told his senior to relax and that “the basketball gods will even things out.”

LaCasse persevered and is playing some of his best basketball at the best time for the Hawks.

“He’s done so much in his career at Terrace,” Sood said. “He came in as a kid you’d never even know. We just heard there was a big kid turning out. He came out and worked and worked and worked and his senior year he got to be one of the key guys to lead us to the state tournament and make his own identity. That’s just awesome.”

On the flip side, Sood had a while to look forward to coaching Bowman.

“I knew he was coming, probably when he was an infant,” Sood said. “Greg Bowman is the first kid at Terrace to take his team to four state tournaments in the school’s history. That’s an unbelievable accomplishment. That is so much work to be able to do that. That’s not easy. There’s some kids that are in the NBA — Marvin Williams that played in Bremerton — that never went to a state tournament. Greg Bowman has gone to four state tournaments.

“Credit to that kid. He’s made us look a lot smarter than we are.”

Bowman thinks the recipe for success at Mountlake Terrace is pretty simple.

“We just have players who love to play,” Bowman said. “Basketball players. Guys who love to get in the gym every day, get better every day and work hard. Also we have alumni that come back, Blake’s in the gym with us every day helping us get better. Guys love to play Terrace basketball.”

The Hawks’ head coach believes it’s important for the team not to live in the past. Sood jokes that he’s forgotten all about last year’s team, which had the highest finish in school history. While that’s unlikely, he said it’s time for this year’s team to leave its own legacy.

“It’s funny you say that because right now I’ve forgotten about last year’s guys,” Sood said. “At the end of the season, and when I retire, I’ll always think about last year’s team. But these are the guys we’ve got. These are the guys we coach, these are guys that are working hard every day for 51 practices. That’s over. As a coach you want to prove yourself. As kids they want to prove themselves. This is 2013-14 and that’s all we focused on. They get to write their own story.”

The posts said they tried not to look ahead too much in the regular season, but everyone had the goal of getting back to the Tacoma Dome and ending this season’s story at the state tournament.

“We’re very motivated,” Bowman said. “Last year we got fourth in state and a taste of what it’s like down there. It’s a great feeling to compete against the best in Tacoma and me, Loren, Yoel and Yonnas — all the seniors — we want to get back there for one last year.”

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