Everett’s Ella Sylvester (left) elevates for a shot during a 3A District 1 playoff game against Arlington on Feb. 15 at Marysville Pilchuck High School. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Everett’s Ella Sylvester (left) elevates for a shot during a 3A District 1 playoff game against Arlington on Feb. 15 at Marysville Pilchuck High School. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

After early losses, Everett never stopped believing in run to state

The Seagulls dropped 5 straight early in the season, but have won 10 of 12 since heading into a regional game vs. Hermiston.

Coach Darrell McNeal said the Everett girls basketball team’s season could have gone one of two ways in mid-January.

The Seagulls were 2-5 and had just lost five straight, including four losses to eventual Class 4A and 3A state qualifiers. They were also still trying to find their way under their first-year head coach.

The team could’ve folded after the tough start, or they could find a way to turn things around.

The Seagulls simply never stopped believing and chose to do the latter.

Everett has won 10 of 12 since. As a result, the Seagulls (12-7) are in the state regionals for the first time since 2013.

No. 11 Everett takes on No. 14 Hermiston at 2 p.m. Saturday at Everett Community College. The winner advances to the first round of the next week’s 3A Hardwood Classic at the Tacoma Dome, a venue the Seagulls haven’t played at in 26 years.

“To be able to come together as a senior with these girls has been super special, especially with three underclassmen as starters,” four-year starter Ella Sylvester said. “We mesh super well and it’s been awesome.”

The Seagulls had to learn quick this season and so did their coach. McNeal, who previously coached the Cascade and Lynnwood boys programs, was hired in late September, leaving him little time to get familiar with the returning roster with Nov. 15 tryouts less than two months away.

“I didn’t have an idea of who was coming out until the first day of tryouts,” he said. “(That’s) when I actually saw everybody that was going to actually be there and be a part of all of this. I knew of girls, but I didn’t know how many of the returners were going to come back out and how they were going to respond with the COVID protocols.”

With little time to prepare and the added obstacles created by COVID, Everett struggled to fully grasp McNeal’s offensive systems during the season’s first month. It didn’t help that four of their opponents during that stretch — 4A No. 1 Woodinville, 4A No. 4 Lake Stevens, 3A No. 7 Stanwood and 3A No. 9 Lakeside-Seattle — were among the best in the state either.

But something clicked after that tough stretch. The defense specifically.

The Seagulls have held nine of their past 12 opponents to 41 points or less, allowing an average of just 34.5 points per game in those nine contests. They finished the season giving up the fewest points per game (37.4) in Wesco 3A/2A play — a huge jump from being ninth in that category during the last full-length season.

“I think for these girls they really have a lot of pride playing defense,” McNeal said. “That’s something we kind of ingrained in them from Day 1 is that we’re going to build this program on our defense and go from there.”

Everett has thrived defensively thanks in large part to the number of long, athletic players at its disposal. Ten of the Seagulls’ 12 varsity players range from 5-foot-9 to 6-foot-1, and on top of that many of those players have the ability to guard multiple positions on the court.

Two of the biggest catalysts in Everett’s defensive prowess have been twin sisters Mae and Alana Washington. The sophomore duo heads up the Seagulls’ full-court press, which has wreaked havoc on opponents and sparked the offense by creating transition buckets.

“Our defense definitely fuels our whole game,” Sylvester said. “… It gives us that momentum to last all four quarters.”

McNeal and teammates also highlighted the integral role Sylvester has played in leading the team. When the losses were coming early on, Sylvester was a steady and encouraging presence.

“It’s a lot of her experience, her toughness and her competitive nature,” McNeal said. “She works hard in practice and she’s a great leader, and then we get her on the court and she flips another switch. She was willing to burden the load (early on) … as the other girls were still developing.”

And despite having little time to familiarize themselves with a new coach, Everett’s players said building a rapport with McNeal came easy.

“We are so happy that he was able to come and take this opportunity to coach us,” Sylvester said. “… As soon as the season started, he was into it and going full throttle. He made us know that he was committed by his words and then by his actions, so it was pretty easy to trust him.”

Saturday’s matchup with Hermiston will be a classic battle of strength versus strength. The Bulldogs average 61.4 points per game, have reached 70 points seven times this season and haven’t had a team hold them below 40 — which Everett has done to 11 teams this season.

With a chance to play in the Tacoma Dome on the line, the Seagulls hope their smothering defense can help them earn a spot at the Hardwood Classic for the first time this century.

“That would be so amazing,” Alana Washington said. “As long as I step foot in there, I’ll feel like we accomplished a goal that Everett hasn’t in a long time. Any wins from there would just be great, just a cherry on top.”

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Sports

Shorewood senior Isaak Abraham poses for a portrait as The Herald's Boys Soccer Player of the Year at Shorewood High School on Wednesday, June 19, 2024 in Shoreline, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2024 Boys Soccer Player of the Year: Shorewood’s Isaak Abraham

The Stormrays senior forward led Shorewood to Wesco 3A/2A and Class 3A District 1 titles.

Everett’s J’aiden Cranwell-Meneses leaves a Monroe defender in the dirt while advancing the ball during a 3A District soccer match on Thursday, May 2, 2024, at Monroe High School in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
The Herald’s 2024 All-Area boys soccer team

Editor’s note: The Player of the Year and All-Area teams were chosen… Continue reading

Lake Stevens High School graduate Taylor Roe competes for Oklahoma State University at the 2024 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on June 8 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo courtesy of Oklahoma State University)
Taylor Roe competes at the Olympic trials this weekend

Now that the Lake Stevens H.S. graduate’s decorated college running career is done, the pro ranks are next.

Jean-Luc Baker leads advanced students through a warmup during the Seattle Skating Club 2024 Your True Step figure skating seminar on Saturday, June 15, 2024, at Olympic View Arena in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Patterson: What’s next for local Olympian Jean-Luc Baker?

The Edmonds ice dancer brought Olympic gold medalist Nathan Chen to town with Your True Step.

Soccer legends to be part of local Copa America watch party

Pete Fewing, Marcus Hahnemann will be on hand at Angel of the Winds Arena for next Thursday’s U.S. game.

Mukilteo’s Beard places second in hammer at U20 nationals

The King’s High School sophomore has a chance to represent the U.S. at U20 worlds.

Sounders complete purchase of NWSL’s Seattle Reign

Now both of Seattle’s pro soccer teams are under the umbrella of one ownership group.

Logan Gilbert of the Seattle Mariners throws a pitch during the second inning against the Texas Rangers at T-Mobile Park on June 16, 2024, in Seattle, Washington. (Alika Jenner / Getty Images)
Mariners week: Gilbert’s brilliance lifts Seattle to sweep

Seattle’s 8 1/2-game lead in the AL West is its largest since the 2001 season.

AquaSox week in review: Mariners’ Polanco does rehab stint

Everett wins five of six on the road against Eugene; Schreck and Garcia have big weeks.

Women’s PGA Championship offers fans chance to watch and learn

The women’s golf major tournament comes to Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish beginning Thursday.

Glacier Peak’s Nicholas Miller. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
2024 All-Wesco boys soccer teams

Here are the 2024 All-Wesco boys soccer teams. Teams are chosen by… Continue reading

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba catches the game-winning touchdown pass as Eagles cornerback James Bradberry defends in the fourth quarter on Dec. 18. (Yong Kim / Tribune News Service)
Seahawks look to fully unlock Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s potential

Seattle is expecting good things from the receiver, who was taken 20th overall in the 2023 draft.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.