BOTHELL — For the past two seasons, Lynnwood has been one of Wesco’s best girls basketball teams, but both seasons the Royals failed to advance to the state tournament games in the Tacoma Dome.
Lack of experience playing in the Tacoma Dome aside, there is no denying the Royals are loaded with talent and are not just the favorite to win the 4A Wesco South for the second straight season, but also one of the early favorites to bring home a state championship.
It’s a new feeling for the Royals, who haven’t necessarily been viewed as the favorite in their own league let alone at the state level the past two seasons.
And Lynnwood head coach Everett Edwards isn’t quite ready to dismiss the underdog role.
“I still consider us to be the underdog,” he said. “But in terms of expectations, we’ve had another very good summer. Last year I thought we would do well because we did really well in the summer and we took steps forward regarding our team chemistry and unselfishness.”
The Royals played state-level competition in their summer league and many of their tournaments and did very well, even scoring a victory over defending state champion Mead.
Whether Edwards wants to admit it or not, other teams are taking notice. Lake Stevens coach Randall Edens, who led his team to a fifth-place finish at state last season, said he believes the Royals can win it all.
“If anything (the attention) causes us to be more focused,” Edwards said. “We’ve done well. Technically, we’ve still qualified for that state tournament three of the last four years, but we didn’t get a chance to take that trip down to the Tacoma Dome. There is a lot for this particular group of seniors that they have not had a chance to experience.”
Returning Wesco South MVP Jasmin Edwards, Everett’s daughter, leads that group of returning seniors. There is nothing more the point guard would like to do than compete for a state championship in her final season.
“Starting at the top is exciting,” Edwards said. “It does add a little bit more pressure just because you’re expected to do well, but I have confidence in our team that we will hopefully end up on the top.”
Before the Royals can have a chance to play for a state championship, they first have to figure out a way to get out of the state regional round, the stage that has stymied them the previous two seasons. A year ago, they were one of the state’s top-ranked teams and then were upset 61-60 by Kentwood. It was a heartbreaking loss, but also served as motivation.
Coach Edwards shoulders the blame for those big-game losses the past two years.
“Coaching,” Edwards said with a laugh. “I blame myself. I’ll put it on myself that I need to have our girls better prepared. The regional game is a game the other team wants to win too. We’ve been right there. We’ve had great opportunities to pull the games out and for whatever reason it didn’t go our way.”
Jasmin’s younger sister, Jordyn, who emerged as one of the team’s best players as a freshman a year ago, said the team might have got a little overconfident going into the regional game.
“I think in our mind we were just like, ‘Oh, we’re going to state,’” she said. “One practice my dad was like, ‘guys, this could be our last practice’ and we kind of just laughed it off. It actually was our last practice because we didn’t really think about it.”
Now after two years of disappointment, the Royals say they won’t overlook that game if they get back there this season.
“When it comes down to that point, if we are fortunate enough to get to that regional game again, I feel very good about our chances, especially if we’re healthy,” Edwards said.
Lynnwood finished last season 22-2, losing 40-36 to Monroe on Jan. 2 and then to Kentwood. During the regular season, they beat up on Jackson twice, beat Arlington and Lake Stevens each in the regular season and scored another victory over the Eagles in the District 1 championship game.
But it was the Vikings and Eagles who won their regional games and advanced to state where they played each other in the semifinals. The Eagles won in overtime and lost to Mead the following night in the state championship game. The Vikings finished fifth.
Many of the Royals players went to the Tacoma Dome to watch the Eagles play for the championship, which stirred up feelings of what could have been.
“It was a tough last year seeing Arlington go all the way to the state championship and knowing that could have been us,” sophomore forward Mikayla Pivec said.
Added coach Edwards: “We want our Wesco teams to do well, but the reality is we beat them twice and we have that vision that it could have been us had we been fortunate enough to have the ball bounce our way. If anything it just shows that we are a good team and we have a competitive league.”
To ensure his team doesn’t have to go through that kind of pain again, Edwards lobbied for the toughest nonleague schedule he could get. The Royals face stiff competition before getting into league play highlighted by a mid-December clash with Mount Rainier, also a preseason state championship favorite.
“We are trying to have the toughest nonleague schedule that we can find to try to prepare us for those type of games,” Edwards said.
Mount Rainer should present a big chalenge for the Royals. Two-time state Player of the Year Brittany McPhee will give the Lynnwood defense all it can handle. The Rams’ senior, who has committed to Stanford, averaged 27 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.1 assist, three steals and 3.1 blocks per game a season ago.
The Royals have plenty of their own talent and how far they go might depend on how the younger Edwards sister and classmate Pivec play in their sophomore seasons. Both s are likely to start and have been working on their strength in the offseason. Mostly an inside player a year ago, Pivec also has improved her jump shot.
“I feel like we have the same role, we’re just going a little deeper into those roles,” Pivec said.
Both players make coach Edwards’ life easier, and the best is likely yet to come.
“They have so much skill already in them and they don’t even know what they’re doing yet,” Edwards said. “So the future is bright. That being said, as freshman for us last year they were leaders for our team. Having that year of experience behind them I’m very exciting to see how they do this year.”
For both Edwards sisters and Pivec, versatility is their biggest strength. Each of them can play all five positions on the floor. And on teams coached by Jasmin and Jordyn’s dad, nothing is off the table.
“Playing for Lynnwood is pretty, I don’t want to say simple, but you have the green light to make plays,” coach Edwards said. “Those kids are ones that you just let them play.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.