Winners don’t always leave with trophies

Of the four Wesco teams that made it to the Hardwood Classic in Tacoma this past weekend, the Jackson and Shorecrest girls earned fourth-place finishes, and the Mountlake Terrace and Jackson boys came up empty-handed.

For the Lady Timberwolves, it was a great finish to the season. They spent much of the regular season overshadowed in their own conference by Lake Stevens and Stanwood. In districts, they earned a victory over Stanwood to advance to the 4A District 1 championship game where they lost to Lake Stevens. Still, it was good enough to earn Jackson a spot in the state regionals. With a win there, the Timberwolves became the only local girls 4A team to advance to state.

At state they, didn’t disappoint. They rebounded from a quarterfional loss with two victories to place fourth, the highest finish in program history.

The Shorecrest girls followed the pattern, rebounding from a quarterfinal loss in the 3A tournament to win two straight and place fourth.

I covered both teams periodically throughout the season and it was nice to see them have success on the biggest stage.

However, most of the games I covered this season were boys basketball games. Two of the schools I covered the most were Mountlake Terrace and Jackson. The Hawks and T-wolves were the only boys Wesco representatives at the state tournaments and both had high hopes coming in.

Mountlake Terrace came into the tournament with a 23-1 record. The only blemish on its record was a one-point loss to Shorewood on the final day of the regular season. Jackson came into the tournament with five losses, but was riding a lengthy win streak and with a talented group of youngsters, seemed as though it expected to make a run.

The Hawks drew a tough quarterfinal opponent in eventual state champion Rainier Beach. Terrace battled hard for the entire 32 minutes, trying to fight from behind for most of the contest. The Hawks cut Rainier Beach’s double-digit lead to five in the third quarter, only to succumb to the Vikings’ athleticism and pressure. The next day, the Hawks were eliminated by Lake Washington.

The players and coaches wore the disappointment of the loss on their faces. For a writer who covered a third of their games this season, it was easy to understand why.

This wasn’t the ending the players envisioned, or deserved.

The Hawks were loaded with talent. Marquis Armstead and Blake Fernandez are both guards who can take over a game on any given night. Coby Russell is a force in the post.

Then, of course, there is Ryan Shannon.

Shannon is undoubtedly one of the more talented players in Wesco, but rather that go out every night to try to get 20 to 25 points. Shannon played a role like the rest of his teammates. He deferred some of his scoring to other players and as a unit the team hung its hat on defense.

It was a formula that worked almost flawlessly, up until the Hawks met Rainier Beach.

Terrace might not have been the most flashy team that I have ever seen, but they were extremely fun to watch because they played basketball the right way. They played as a team and they knew defense was the key to winning a championship.

I have met nearly all the players at some point through the season and it became apparent to me that they truly are an unselfish bunch. This was a basketball team that was mature beyond its years. I give the players credit for that and I give head coach Nalin Sood a lot of the credit as well.

I got to know Sood quite well throughout the season and the more I spoke with him, the less it became a mystery as to why the Hawks were having so much success. Of course, he had a group of kids who were willing to buy into his teachings. But Sood had a way of making you believe in what he was trying to teach. I have never been so impressed with a coach.

During games, he could be seen on the sidelines with his game face on. To call Sood animated on the sidelines would at the very least be accurate if not an understatement. But it was after the game that most impressed me. As he would talk to me outside the locker rooms about each game, he would stop mid-sentence as each player exited the locker room and have some compliment for them on the night’s game.

It was clear that he loved his players and his players seemed to really care for him.

And from a writer’s perspective, his players were always respectful and answered my questions thoughtfully. I think that speaks not only to their character, but most likely to the influences that they have outside of basketball and of course to Sood.

Amid the disappointment of Friday’s loss to Lake Washington after waiting for some time for Sood to come out of the locker room, he spoke to me for nearly 10 minutes. I’m sure at that moment he probably wanted to be anywhere else in the world besides talking to me. But he sat down and answered my questions. At the end of the interview, he even thanked me for covering his team all season and said it had been a pleasure working with me.

That means a lot to us sportswriters. We like to have a good rapport with the people we work with and for him to say that to me when he had all those other things on his mind — I think that speaks to the type of man he is.

So to the Terrace basketball family, it has been a pleasure for me to cover your team this season and watch your team grow. I know it didn’t end the way you wanted it to, but there is plenty there to be proud of.

I don’t want to leave out the Jackson boys. While I didn’t covered quite as many Jackson games this season, I have gotten to know coach Steve Johnson over the past two seasons and have very similar feelings about him as a coach and a person.

I also know that Johnson and the Timberwolves have a bright future ahead of them with Jason Todd and Dan Kingma both with two years of basketball remaining.

Johnson took a young team and molded it into a squad that played like a bunch of veterans by the time the season ended.

The quarterfinal game that the T-wolves played against Union in the Tacoma Dome was one of the most competitive basketball games I have ever seen. It ended with Jackson on the short end of the stick, falling 66-65 in overtime. But both teams left it all on the court.

Todd, though he was just a sophomore this season, led that charge. The way he plays and carries himself on the court remind me of a seasoned college player rather that a 16-year-old young man.

But even with all the great things I have to say about both the Jackson and Mountlake Terrace players and coaches, both teams came up short and I know that leaving the Tacoma Dome without any hardware was a tough pill to swallow for both teams.

After Jackson’s loss to Union, Timberwolves senior Sam Brown might have summed it up best.

“I’m really proud of the fact that despite everything that was going on we kept our composure and we kept fighting and we kept doing our thing,” Brown said. “Unfortunately things didn’t work out. But hey, what can you do? It’s sports. Sometimes the ball doesn’t go your way.”

Losing hurts, but Brown’s statement proves he is wise beyond his years.

Congratulations to all of the Wesco teams, especially the four state representatives, on a great season.

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