By David Krueger Herald Writer
Opposing coaches have all but given up on stopping Jackson senior post Kristin Stoffel.
Well, not entirely. They still bring two or three defenders in the paint to try to stop her, but are resigned to the fact they can’t really seem to slow her down.
“She’s been such a solid player for them for all four years,” said Lake Stevens head coach Randall Edens, whose Vikings played Stoffel in the 4A District 1 title game last Friday night and “held” her to 16 points and nine rebounds. “When you gameplan you just kind of expect that she’s gonna get her 12 to 15 points.”
With three Wesco teams ranked in the top 10 this season, Jackson head coach Jeannie Boyer said her team has been able to fly under the radar. The Timberwolves, ranked No. 6 in the final Associated Press 4A rankings, finished the regular season with a 17-3 record, and a Wesco South championship. Jackson heads to the state tournament for the first time since 2009, Stoffel’s freshman year, with the district’s No. 2 seed.
For a schedule of next weekend’s state basketball regional games, click here.
“Honestly I have a really good group of kids that are willing to work really hard,” Boyer said. “Our team this year is just a blend of really nice girls that just care about each other and want to be good teammates.”
Boyer says that this season Stoffel, who averages 14.2 points per game, has become a vocal leader for the Timberwolves. Stoffel is one of four seniors, and aside from one junior, the rest of the team is made up of freshmen and sophomores.
“She’s a really quiet leader,” Boyer said. “This year it’s been fun because she’s vocal with the younger kids. She’s stepped up and has really been a vocal leader.”
Those younger kids want to return the favor. The newer Timberwolves want to get Stoffel, as well as fellow seniors Mary Johnson, Jessie Murphy and Hayley Gjertsen, back to Tacoma.
“They really respect Kristin,” Boyer said. “They want to get their seniors back to state.”
Calling her a “coach’s dream,” Boyer said Stoffel always practices with full intensity and works hard, making her a perfect example for the younger members of the team. That effort also extends to the classroom, where Stoffel has earned a 3.93 grade point average.
“She’s a great leader, a role model,” Boyer said. “She really is the type of player you want to be headlining your program. … She’s a player that, honestly, I think has been really underrated in the league. She’s a quiet player that I think does everything right.
“She’s the foundation of our team. She does whatever our team needs to win.”
According to Stoffel, this year’s group of Timberwolves have a strong bond off the court, which has translated to good results on it.
“We’re all really close. We have a ton of team bonding and we’re always having a good time,” Stoffel said. “Chemistry off the court always helps on the court.”
The Seattle University-bound post has been playing basketball since she was in the third grade. She said she likes the “intensity and teamwork” needed to be successful in the sport.
Stoffel isn’t just known for her leadership. Her skills on the court have also earned her the respect of teammates and opponents alike. When the game’s on the line, Jackson wants to find a way to get No. 32 the ball.
“We really depend on her to be the calming point of our offense,” Boyer said. “Whenever we need a basket or we need a calming down we make sure the ball is in her hands.”
In the district title game, Lake Stevens brought two or three extra defenders to help guard Stoffel in the post. Even though she scored in double figures, Boyer wishes the ball would have ended up in Stoffel’s hands even more than it did.
“She was again our calming presence. Unfortunately, we didn’t get her the ball more,” Boyer said. “Even with that attention she was still able to put up good numbers.”
The Vikings became the only team to beat Jackson twice this season, also winning a Feb. 4 contest 64-57. The Timberwolves’ other losses came to Stanwood and Lynnwood, both of which play Tuesday trying to secure trips to the 4A and 3A state tournaments, respectively.
The four-year varsity starter admits that her team was disappointed after the district title game, but remains focused on the team’s ultimate goal.
“Everyone was really disappointed,” she said. “We definitely all wanted to cut down the net and get the win. But we all know there’s a bigger picture in mind. State is our goal.”
Stoffel and Boyer said Jackson’s season has involved numerous goals that have guided the Timberwolves through the past three months.
“We had a series of goals,” Stoffel said. “It started with winning our first game of the season. Then winning the Wesco South, winning the district championship, and winning the first game at state.”
Building on that, Stoffel has a clear goal for the final month of her high school career: return to the state tournament. And bring some hardware back to Jackson.
“We definitely want to make it all the way to the Tacoma Dome and trophy there,” Stoffel said.
Stoffel’s last trip to the state tournament ended with two quick losses to Issaquah and Lewis and Clark.
Edens thinks that this year’s group, with a mix of young, talented Timberwolves to go along with a few older, experienced players will benefit Jackson in the postseason.
“Obviously with Kristin having been there before, back in her career, that’s going to be really important moving forward,” Edens said. “The experience factor I think is a huge thing. She’s been in some big games and big moments.
“Seniors rise to the occasion. Kristin certainly epitomizes what you want out of a four year player.”
The two Wesco teams are likely to be on opposite sides of the brackets, meaning they probably wouldn’t meet until a potential championship or placing game on the last day of the state tournament, which is fine with Edens.
“Hopefully, we can avoid each other until maybe trophy day on Saturday,” the Vikings’ coach said.
Whoever the opponent, the Timberwolves will continue to follow its senior leader, they hope all the way to the Tacoma Dome the following weekend.
“It’s been this understated goal that she’s had that she wants to get back to the state tournament,” Boyer said. “The last couple weeks we’ve really felt her leadership pushing us toward that.”
Stoffel said that nothing is going to change in the final weeks of the season. She’s going to continue to work as hard as she has all year, and make every effort to go as far as possible in the state tournament.
“I think we’ll be successful,” Stoffel said, “as long as we stay focused and really work hard in practice.”