By David Krueger Herald Writer
The Stanwood boys basketball team recently accomplished something it hadn’t done in more than 50 years.
And the Spartans hope they’re just getting started.
For the first time since 1948, Stanwood finished the regular season with a perfect 20-0 record. The Spartans hope their success continues in the postseason, starting with the opening game of today’s 3A District 1 tournament against Shorewood.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” senior wing Ian Zipp said. “As a kid thinking, ‘What are we going to do our senior year?’ And then have this be the outcome? It’s euphoria. It’s great!”
Zipp is one of six Stanwood seniors hoping to make their final season memorable. Four of them — Zipp, guards Josh Thayer and Brady Garcea and post Drew Stang — have three years or more of varsity experience, giving them a calm presence in big games.
“It kind of makes those butterflies — well, I guess you still get the butterflies,” Thayer said. “But you just know what to do. What to expect.”
Stanwood head coach Zach Ward said having those four to lead the Spartans helps immensely
“It’s that experience,” Ward said. “They’ve been in big games before. They know what to expect. It helps a lot. It covers up some coaching mistakes.”
Thayer brings a strong defensive presence to Stanwood. The point guard has better than 80 steals this season, breaking his own single-season record. He posted 11 in a single game earlier in the season.
At 6-foot-8, Stang provides a big post presence for the Spartans. Ward said Stang has been more aggressive this season and has become a go-to option for Stanwood.
“He’s a senior. He wants to win just as bad as any of the other guys,” Ward said. “He knows this is his last year at Stanwood High School and he wants to do some big things.”
Zipp and Garcea can also score from all over the floor, giving the Spartans multiple threats.
“Each night any one of us could go off,” Zipp said. “Drew Stang could have an amazing game, Josh, Brady, Skout (Roberson). It’s hard to stop us. So if one of us doesn’t show up, another person will.”
The seniors are key, but Stanwood has a deep roster full of threats, from No. 0, freshman AJ Martinka, to junior post Skout Roberson — the younger brother of former Spartans’ star Cannen Roberson — at No. 34.
“I might have a bad game, but then Josh will have a good game, so we kind of pick each other up,” Stang said. “That’s just how deep we are. We’ve got backup.”
The result has been an impressive season where the Spartans have outscored their opponents by an average of 21 points per game. Stanwood, which has won all but two games by double digits, heads into the postseason as the No. 2-ranked team in the Associated Press 3A prep poll.
But Stanwood isn’t letting the high ranking go to its heads. The Spartans think it’s nice to get a little attention, but it’s hardly their No. 1 goal for the season.
“It gives us confidence,” Garcea said. “It’s nice to be ranked No. 2, but you’ve got to keep in mind that it doesn’t really mean anything until we go prove something in Tacoma or win a district championship.”
Despite their success, it isn’t just about basketball for the Spartans. They’re an incredibly tight-knit group that enjoys each other’s company both on and off the court.
“All 12 kids get along,” Ward said. “They’re fun to coach, really fun to be around. I think that helps a lot in the game.”
In fact, not long after the team’s closest contest — a 63-61 victory against Mountlake Terrace on Jan. 17 — the Spartans released a video of them dancing to the popular DJ Snake and Lil’ Jon song “Turn Down for What.”
“That’s just what we do in our off time,” Zipp said. “We just like to have fun like that. We do stuff like that and I was like, ‘Why don’t we get one of those things on video?’ Just to show that we can ball on the court and off the court we like to have some fun.”
Zipp said that the Spartans like to keep things pretty loose.
“We like to joke around a lot,” he said. “In the locker room we’ve got these jokes going before pregame. We say stuff just to get each other loose. We’re just like a tight-knit family. We’ve got each other’s backs. We’ll pick each other up if they’re down, give high-fives, stuff like that.”
The Spartans are eyeing their second straight district championship. Stanwood held off Mountlake Terrace 47-43 in last year’s title game and the Spartans will have to weather another strong field in their efforts to repeat. All four teams from the Wesco 3A South finished the year with overall records over .500. Stanwood could also be facing a Wesco North rival for the third time this season.
“I think we definitely have a difficult road to the championship, but we’ve just got to show up every game and just give it our all,” Stang said. “We definitely want that district championship. We want to go up there and cut down the net. It’s just a great experience winning a district championship. State would be great too.”
Last year Stanwood was rewarded for its district championship with a tough game against Franklin in the regional round of the state tournament. The Spartans led at halftime, but were outscored 50-30 in the second half as their season ended with a 76-64 loss to the Quakers, who went on to place fifth at the state tournament.
The defeat has stuck with the Stanwood players.
“Personally, I just try to forget about it,” Stang said. “It wasn’t a great game for me. But at the same time, I don’t want that to happen this year. It was a pretty bad feeling, honestly. Just being that close and not being able to get (to Tacoma). But it’s definitely motivating to get to state this year.”
Said Zipp: “That was just devastating. We use it as motivation. We don’t want that feeling again. That was such a letdown. We’re going to use that and hopefully that’ll be our push to the Tacoma Dome.”
Ward said the Stanwood players made a list of goals at the beginning of the season. The first goal was to win the Wesco 3A North title. That was followed by another district championship.
Stanwood has a few goals after that, including getting back to the Tacoma Dome for the first time since 2010.
“That’s what we’re gunning for,” Zipp said. “I mean 20-0 is cool, but 24-0 is even cooler. And then going on to the Tacoma Dome is what we’re aiming for.”
“We want, first and foremost, to go to Tacoma,” added Garcea. “Obviously, we want to go as far as we can there. We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves, though.”