MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — With its victory over Shorecrest last Tuesday, the Mountlake Terrace girls basketball team clinched at least a share of the Wesco 3A South championship.
The last time the Hawks won a league title their first-year head coach, Zach Wilde, wasn’t even born. While the list of accomplishments in the Mountlake Terrace gym continued to grow longer for the boys — especially in recent years — the Lady Hawks hadn’t won a league championship since 1980.
As the 24-year-old Wilde found out soon after accepting the Mountlake Terrace head coaching job last May, that wasn’t the only thing the Hawks hadn’t done in his lifetime.
“I didn’t know it was 30-plus years since they won (the league),” said Wilde, a former basketball standout at Snohomish High School. “I didn’t know it was 26 years since they beat Meadowdale, and I didn’t know they had never beat Glacier Peak. I didn’t know all those things, but I found out very quickly.”
Wilde also quickly helped change things.
The Hawks finally defeated Meadowdale and Glacier Peak as they earned a share of the league title. They play host to Stanwood tonight in the opening round of the Class 3A District 1 tournament.
After finishing last a year ago at 5-8 in league and 7-12 overall, the Hawks had their confidence boosted this season by several key developments.
First, the Hawks traveled to Yakima to face 4A Davis in the SunDome. Playing in a state tournament-type atmosphere without one of their best players, senior Maddy Kristjanson, the Hawks improved to 3-0 with a 59-47 victory.
If that win didn’t convince people that these weren’t the same old Hawks, what they did three nights later certainly did. Trailing Edmonds-Woodway by 20 points with six minutes to play in the game, the Hawks pulled off a stunning comeback. Mountlake Terrace closed the game on a 23-2 run led by junior guard Samantha Romanowski, who scored half of her 32 points in the final quarter.
The Hawks won 63-62.
“Our mentality has really changed since last year,” Romanowski said. “We have most of the same girls, but we got our confidence back and we believe in ourselves and put a lot more trust in each other.”
With the E-W game on the line, Romanowski had no choice but to trust her teammates. With less than a minute to play, she fouled out.
Without Romanowski, senior Nikkie Froehlich stepped up and made sure the Hawks’ fourth-quarter efforts weren’t wasted. Her left-handed runner in the lane with 14 seconds remaining ultimately gave the Hawks the win.
“I had thrown it up and I was down on the ground,” Froehlich said. “I didn’t even look up to see if I made it, honestly. I was down on the ground and I looked up at the crowd and everyone screamed. I got the biggest smile on my face.”
Wilde had reason to smile, too. The victory over Edmonds-Woodway helped his players buy into his philosophy that much more.
“When you’re a coach and you’re in a game like that, you have to try to keep them believing and keep them motivated and keep them focused on the game,” Wilde said. “To actually have them come in and finish a game like that, all those things that the coach just said the players start believing.”
Riding that emotional high, the Hawks defeated Meadowdale 40-36 three nights later, their first victory over the Chiefs-turned-Mavericks in 26 years. After five games, the Hawks had experienced more excitement than most teams get in a season, but it was just beginning.
Mountlake Terrace lost three of its next five games, a slide that would have been difficult to recover from in previous seasons, but the Hawks took it in stride.
The third of those three defeats, a 59-43 loss to Shorecrest on Jan. 3, was the Hawks’ first league loss of the season. The setback came just five days before Mountlake Terrace’s first game of the year against perennial league-power Glacier Peak.
Instead of imploding, the Hawks knocked another monkey of their back with a 50-48 win, their first ever over Glacier Peak.
“That was really big because we knew that was going to be one of our toughest games the whole year,” Romanowski said. “They would probably kill us the previous years. This year when we came in there we played all four quarters. That was probably our best game.”
It was the first of nine straight wins for the Hawks that included a sweep of the Wesco 3A North schools.
The final victory of the streak was last Tuesday’s 61-60 win over Shorecrest. After being held scoreless since the first quarter, Romanowski knocked down a difficult contested 3-pointer with less than three seconds remaining that proved to be the game-winner.
“We knew we had it in ourselves and we knew we wanted it, but it was our work ethic that we didn’t have last year,” Romanowski said. “We didn’t know how to obtain it last year. This year we’ve really put it into gear and we’ve put our heads in it. We work hard every day.”
The Hawks lost their final game of the regular season to Glacier Peak, giving the Grizzlies a share of the league championship and the No. 1 seed from the Wesco South entering the 3A District 1 tournament. Mountlake Terrace settled for the No. 2 seed from the South.
Three of the eight teams in the district tournament advance to the state regionals, and if his team continues to improve, Wilde doesn’t see why the Hawks can’t be one of them.
“I don’t think we’ve gotten to a point where we’re just going to stabilize,” Wilde said. “We can keep getting better every day and every week and that’s what we need to focus on right now.
“I don’t think there is anyone that this team fears.”
Regardless of what happens in the coming weeks, the Hawks have given Wilde more than he could have ever asked for in his first season as a head coach.
“I think you’ll remember your first year always,” he said. “I got really lucky with the girls that I have and how they are and how much they love being around each other and being here. I haven’t had a day where I haven’t been excited to get to the gym. Out of all the years I’ve played and all the teams I’ve been on, this is probably the most exciting team I’ve ever been a part of.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.