The Mountlake Terrace Hawks got a taste of the state tournament last season. Now they want a bigger bite.
Getting back to the Tacoma Dome is priority No. 1 this season.
“We know where we want to be,” senior guard Jesse Zerom said. “We’ve been there. We know what it takes. (We) just have to go 10 times harder than we did last year. It’s like an expectation now.”
Terrace, which finished 23-3 last season, is trying to get back to the state tournament despite losing two big pieces from last year’s team, including All-Area post Ryan Shannon. Shannon, who now plays for Montana State, averaged 10.5 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Coby Russell, another big post presence, also graduated.
“I just don’t think you replace guys like that or fill those spots,” Terrace head coach Nalin Sood said. “Those guys make us coaches look a lot smarter than we are. When you have two guys that take up interior position like that, it’s hard to fill.”
Instead of lamenting what’s gone, the Hawks are focused on what they have, and how they can use it to succeed.
Marquis Armstead, an All-Wesco 3A first-team guard, returns, along with Zerom and Blake Fernandez, a second-team all-league selection who is one of Mountlake Terrace’s most explosive players.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, Fernandez broke his wrist during a fall-league game and is out until at least mid-December.
“If anybody wants to know what to get me for Christmas, give me a healthy Blake Fernandez,” Sood said. “… We’re obviously going to be a better basketball team when Blake comes back. We’ve got to hold the fort down until he gets back, which is going to be difficult.”
As far as the post goes, Sood and the Hawks hope juniors Greg Bowman and Loren Lacasse can help negate what was lost with the departures of Shannon and Russell.
“Everybody’s stepping up and filling their roles,” said Bowman, who at 6-foot-7 is one of the Hawks’ tallest players.
“This offseason we were focusing on getting Loren and Greg to become our Ryan and Coby,” said Fernandez, who practices with the team with his wrist in a cast. “As the season progresses, I think we’ll end up getting them to be the impact players that Coby and Ryan were last year.”
Bowman said the team is proud of what it accomplished last year, but can’t get caught living in the past. He wants this year’s Hawks to create their own identity.
“We had a good year last year, and we want to try and build off that,” Bowman said. “But we’ve got to make a name for ourselves this year. We can’t say, ‘Oh we had a good year last year.’ We’ve got to do what we can do this year.”
The Hawks will face stiff competition in the competitive Wesco 3A South. Shorewood returns senior post Josh Hawkinson, a Washington State University signee, and Glacier Peak, led by All-Area post Zach Pederson, is seeking its fourth straight state berth.
“I’ll tell you one thing, in the Wesco South nothing’s automatic with Glacier Peak and Shorewood,” Sood said. “There are some good programs.”
Mountlake Terrace also faces a strong non-conference schedule, with games against several local 4A schools, as well as Lincoln — a tough Narrows League team — and Fairfax, a California squad Sood says is a “perennial West Coast power.”
“Coach said he wanted to get us the toughest schedule, so we’re going to have his back on that one and try to get the ‘W’s,’” Armstead said.
The hope is that the challenging schedule will have Mountlake Terrace battle tested in time for league play, the playoffs and, perhaps, the state tournament. The Hawks want to get back and win a game in the dome after going 0-2 and 0-1 in Tacoma the past two seasons.
“Last year we kind of disappointed a couple fans,” Fernandez said. “Everyone thought that we should have done a lot better than we did. We kind of want to go back as redemption, prove to people that you don’t want to mess around with Terrace.”
Last year’s state experience should help the Hawks this season.
“Last year when we went (to Tacoma), I think nobody was used to that kind of atmosphere, with all those lights and all those people,” Fernandez said. “That experience is what’s going to get us past those big games.”
Regardless of how far they advance, the Hawks won’t be alone. They have a large group of fans who travel with the team. Many of them came to Tuesday night’s “Jam Session,” where Mountlake Terrace unveiled its boys and girls teams to the community.
“They have a group called the ‘Rowdy Rooters’ and they’ve already started having meetings and planning things for this season,” Armstead said. “So, it’s good to see. They take it pretty seriously.
“It sends chills down my back thinking about it right now. It’s the greatest feeling knowing that we’ve got the whole school behind us. And we don’t want to let them down.”