By David Krueger Herald Writer
There are five seniors leading this year’s Monroe girls basketball team that have played together since they were in fifth grade.
This season, the group — which is comprised of Tiffany Ohlsen, Ashley Alexander, Payton Wangner, Kylie Smith and Breezy Shore — are working closely with one of the newest Bearcats.
First-year head coach Matt Chalfant.
“They really welcomed me with open arms, which I really appreciated,” Chalfant said. “They’re really open. They wanted to learn. And we’re still learning.”
Chalfant is the third coach the seniors have had in their four years at Monroe. He’s hoping to create a fun atmosphere for the Bearcats, while making sure everyone, especially the seniors, leaves with good memories of the Monroe basketball program.
So far, so good.
“With Chalfant we really want to play hard for him and do well,” Alexander said.
The girls said it’s better than previous seasons, when it seemed like all they did in practice was run. Now, they say Chalfant has a goal for every practice.
And those practices don’t involve running as a punishment.
“During tryouts every other year, I was thinking, ‘Why do I still play? We just run,’” Wangner said. “Now it’s fun. We trust him.”
“We look forward to going to practice,” Shore said.
The Bearcats have even adopted an acronym to guide their 2012-2013 season which they’ve put on a bunch of their basketball gear, including their pre-game warm-ups.
The seniors hope that DESIRE — Defense, Effort, Strength, Integrity, Relationships and Endurance — will help make their senior year a success.
Chalfant is not a stranger to Monroe High School. He has been the boys junior varsity coach the past three years, where he learned from his mentor, boys head coach Zach Wold. Chalfant, who grew up in the Bellingham area and went to Sehome High School, said he still talks to Wold, who Chalfant credits with helping him get the head coaching job.
Something he’s wanted to do for a while.
“For me it has always been a lifelong goal to be a varsity basketball coach,” Chalfant said. “I had a great mentor, working with Nick. He took me under his wing and showed me what it took to be a head coach.”
At Monroe Chalfant is a special education teacher. He didn’t know any of the girls on the basketball team. He had seen a couple from open gym shootarounds and knew a couple had brothers in the boys program.
“It really was starting over,” Chalfant said.
The restart has been a blessing for the Monroe team. In the past there had been drama in practices and games — while the Bearcats were stuck in a string of losing seasons — but now everybody gets along. Chalfant said he wanted to “create a family atmosphere” where everybody was comfortable and had fun.
The seniors said everybody’s united, unlike their freshman years.
“We know the freshmen’s names,” Smith said. “Not like when we were younger. I feel like when we were freshman the seniors had no idea who I was.”
“This year everyone just loves each other,” Ohlsen added. “… We’re focused on basketball instead of worrying about drama.”
The five have been best friends for a while, estimating they spend more than 20 hours a week together. They know each other well and are more than happy to speak about their fellow seniors.
“Breezy’s a scrapper. She’s getting rebounds,” Smith said. “Payton’s a great passer. Ashley has really good inside defense.”
“Tiffany’s really pesky,” Shore said. “She irritates offensive players.”
“Kylie pumps us up,” Ohlsen said.
Chalfant loves talking about his team too.
“(Shore and Ohlsen) are great shooters,” he said. “Tiffany makes us go. She’s small, only 5-foot-3, but she has the heart of a lion. She won’t back down from anybody. Ashley is the defensive stopper. … She’s definitely a gifted athlete.”
The coach also heaps praise on his two captains, Smith and Wangner.
“Bottom line, both of those girls are extremely encouraging,” Chalfant said. “They’re always trying to build someone up. Those two girls, especially, lead by example.”
It’s not just their individual skills that help the seniors out. Unsurprisingly, playing together for seven years brings certain advantages for the Bearcats on the court.
“We know where each other’s going to go,” Shore said.
“And we know each other’s tendencies,” Ohlsen added.
The senior Bearcats spend so much time together, they don’t just finish each other’s sentences. They finish each other’s thoughts. For instance, when they think about coming back to visit Monroe High School after graduation.
“We want to come back …” Wangner began.
“… and sweep the floor maybe …” Smith continued.
“… and just hang out,” Ohlsen finished
However, the girls are having so much fun, it doesn’t sound like they want their senior year to end. They say that sometimes the fresh start — with Chalfant at the helm — makes them feel like first-year players.
“We feel like freshman, but we’re actually seniors,” Smith said.
Chalfant said his seniors have already made his first season as a head coach special.
“They’ve made my job 10-times easier,” Chalfant said. “I know they’re going to do the right thing. I came in with my philosophy, but I think a coach can learn from his players. I don’t want to be a dictator. We just try to get better — and we do get better — every day.”
The Bearcats know exactly where they want to be at the end.
“Our first goal is to win Wesco,” Smith said. “Then districts and state.”
“We want to get to the (Tacoma) Dome,” Alexander added.
“To leave a good legacy behind,” Smith said.
“Set up our program with a positive outlook,” Wangner said.
“Have teams scared of us,” Shore said.
And what happens when all that is taken care of, their season is over and the group is done playing basketball together?
“We don’t really like to think about that,” Wangner said.