By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
MILL CREEK — Jackson’s girls basketball team entered the 2012-13 season as the hunted in the Wesco 4A South, voted the preseason favorite by the league’s coaches.
Things didn’t quite go as planned.
Lynnwood ascended to the top behind a 14-1 record in league play, while the Timberwolves had their share of struggles and finished the season in second place behind the Royals. Jackson ended the season with an 11-4 league record, but just a 13-10 overall record.
Things might have been different if the Timberwolves hadn’t lost star guard Kelli Kingma early in the season to a torn ACL.
A new season kicked off on Monday as teams held their first practices. The Timberwolves entered in a new role — hunters. Jackson is looking up at a Lynnwood team that is not only the favorite to repeat as Wesco 4A South champs, but also one of the early favorites for the state championship. Leading the charge will be Kingma, who has battled her way back from injury in less than a year to be ready to play.
“It’s feeling really good,” Kingma said of her knee. “I can’t wait to be playing. It feels so nice to be running around and playing and doing all that.”
Kingma appeared to be able to make any basketball move she wanted to at practice Monday and cutting wasn’t a problem.
And that sweet jump shot of hers — that never went away.
“I feel absolutely 100 percent and pain free,” she said.
Watching her team play without her last season proved to be extremely difficult on Kingma, who recently signed her letter of intent to play basketball at the University of Washington, just as her sister Kristi did. But as it relates to this season, Kingma’s injury might have been a blessing in disguise. In her absence, Sierra Anderson and Faithaleen Lopez-Flores were forced to take on a bigger role and found success. Throw Kingma back in the mix and the Timberwolves could be a dangerous group.
“Faith and Sierra are probably the best teammates to have,” Kingma said. “They are exactly who I would want on my team. I think it was awesome for them to get in there and have an even bigger role, to get stronger and faster and have more minutes and everything. I think this year with everyone back and playing, we could have a really great year.”
One person that won’t be there this year is the coach that has led the Timberwolves for the previous 10 seasons, Jeannie Boyer. Boyer resigned in March to focus on her family.
Jackson hired Mark Haner, who coached the Shorecrest boys junior varsity team for eight seasons, as its new coach in May. It is Haner’s first varsity head coaching job.
“I was pretty excited about it,” Haner said. “I’ve been waiting for that opportunity for a while. I applied for a couple different positions and this one came to me. It’s been really, really amazing so far over the summer. I can’t speak highly enough of the girls I get to work with and the families that are here.”
With Kingma healthy and Lopez-Flores and Anderson back as well, Haner enters a pretty good situation with the Timberwolves.
“Jackson’s had a lot of talent and Coach Boyer before me, she did a great job with the girls,” Haner said. “They are a couple of years removed from going fourth at state, so they’ve had a lot of success. They’re certainly not rebuilding. It’s just a matter of putting my own stamp on what we do and get them learning the system.”
Speed and aggressiveness were a focus on the first day and will be throughout the season.
“We are changing things up to be a little more uptempo,” Haner said. “We are going to be a little bit more aggressive. I really want to add some grit to the way we do things. We’ve got a lot of skill players and a lot of talent, but you don’t win anything because you’ve got talent.”
Kingma will almost undoubtedly step back into the role of go-to player for the Timberwolves, but Haner said the emergence of Lopez-Flores and Anderson will help the team as a whole.
“We’ve got a lot of talented perimeter players to surround Kelli with, so she doesn’t have to do a lot of heavy lifting,” Haner said. “She can just go out there and play.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.