With their pressure defense and high-scoring attack, Jenna Villa and Arlington are among the favorites heading into the 3A Hardwood Classic. (Kevin Clark / The Herald )

With their pressure defense and high-scoring attack, Jenna Villa and Arlington are among the favorites heading into the 3A Hardwood Classic. (Kevin Clark / The Herald )

Arlington girls take high-octane attack into Hardwood Classic

The Eagles have rattled opponents all season with their full-court pressure, fast pace and 1-2 punch.

The Arlington girls basketball team can certainly out-execute teams in the halfcourt.

But the Eagles’ preferred style of play is no secret.

They like to suffocate opponents with their full-court man-to-man pressure. They like to force turnovers and push the pace in transition. They like to capitalize on their athleticism in the open court.

And led by their standout one-two punch of next-level players, they sure can light up the scoreboard.

“I love the speed of how we play,” Arlington standout senior point guard Keira Marsh said. “… It kind of rattles other teams, and we use that to our benefit.”

The high-octane Eagles have raced past opponents nearly all season, averaging 65.3 points per game and allowing just 42.4. They’ve topped 75 points five times and 80 points twice.

And this week, they’re taking their entertaining brand of basketball to the Tacoma Dome — where they’ll enter the Hardwood Classic as one of the contenders for the Class 3A state title.

No. 3-seeded Arlington (19-2) earned a first-round bye and will play in Thursday night’s state quarterfinals against either No. 5 seed Snohomish or No. 12 seed Bonney Lake.

“I feel very confident in where we’re going,” Eagles standout junior guard Jenna Villa said. “I think we can go all the way.”

For the better part of the past decade, Arlington’s press-and-run style has been a program staple under 11th-year coach Joe Marsh.

After taking over as the Eagles’ head coach in 2011, Joe Marsh inherited a tall team that didn’t lend itself to the full-court press. So instead, they played a slower and more post-oriented scheme. And they had considerable success, making a run to the 4A state title game in 2013.

But after a slew of players graduated from that state runner-up squad, Joe Marsh was left with a guard-laden group.

It was an opportunity to install the brand of up-tempo basketball he’d always liked — a style he’d previously experimented with while coaching the Arlington boys junior varsity team.

“We needed something different, because we were pretty small,” Joe Marsh said. “And I had a bunch of fast, athletic guards, so it played into our strengths. And it’s the way basketball is supposed to be played, in my book. It’s a fast-paced game, and I think it’s a fun way to play.

“So it’s kind of evolved over time,” he added. “And we’ve had a lot of success with it.”

Jenna Villa (left) and Keira Marsh are a talented one-two punch for the Eagles. (Kevin Clark / The Herald )

Jenna Villa (left) and Keira Marsh are a talented one-two punch for the Eagles. (Kevin Clark / The Herald )

Since installing the up-tempo attack, the Eagles have reached the Hardwood Classic six times in the past eight full-length seasons. And they’ve earned three top-four state trophies over the span — fourth place in 2015, second place in 2016 and third place in 2020.

“When you have success with something, you want to continue that,” Joe Marsh said. “And I just think it’s something that we’ve been able to build our program on. And the kids know it coming up. They watch us play. When they get here, it’s time to press and run.”

Led by the standout duo of Villa and Keira Marsh, this year’s group is scoring at a higher per-game rate than any Arlington team over at least the past decade.

“This team probably benefits (from the style) as much as any team we’ve had,” Joe Marsh said. “It fits the players that we have. (And) when you have kids as talented as Jenna and Keira, that makes it really, really nice.”

Villa, a uniquely skilled 6-foot-2 guard, is a four-star college prospect who’s ranked by ESPN as the No. 55 overall junior recruit in the nation. Her rare combination of height and all-around talent has been on full display this year, while averaging 21 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three steals per game.

Villa is lethal from beyond the arc, as she demonstrated while draining a school-record 10 3-pointers in a game earlier this season. She’s also a polished ball handler who is adept at attacking the rim. And she has a knack for finding open teammates and dishing assists.

“She’s a once-in-a-lifetime kid for me,” Joe Marsh said. “She does everything for us. … It’s a a rarity to have a kid who’s a junior in high school who can do all of those things at such a high level.”

Villa’s pinpoint perimeter shooting and ultra-deep range may be the most impressive part of her versatile skill set. She frequently launches — and makes — 3-pointers from at least several feet beyond the arc.

“It’s amazing,” Joe Marsh said. “I have never seen a kid who can shoot with that kind of range consistently. … We laugh in games sometimes, because people don’t believe that she’s gonna shoot it out there.”

And when defenders have to guard against the threat of a deep 3-pointer, that only opens up Villa’s game even more.

“If you don’t get on her to 28 feet, she’ll shoot it,” Joe Marsh said. “And if you go get her, she’s gonna go by you. … She’s a matchup nightmare in high school. And it makes us better offensively all the way around, because it frees up some of those other kids to get some easy looks.”

Keira Marsh is an experienced senior point guard and all-around player for the Eagles. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Keira Marsh is an experienced senior point guard and all-around player for the Eagles. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Keira Marsh, the daughter of Joe Marsh, is another college recruit.

The Division II Cal State East Bay signee and three-year starting point guard averages 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals per game for the Eagles. She’s an experienced and reliable ball handler, a crafty finisher around the hoop and a vital part of Arlington’s press defense.

“She’s just got so much experience,” Joe Marsh said. “When Keira has the ball in her hands, everybody knows that we’re in good shape and she’s gonna make good decisions.

“And she’s a huge part of what we do defensively,” he added. “She’s getting her hands on things, tipping balls, deflecting (passes). We get so many steals just because of Keira tipping a ball. She does so much for us.”

And as the season progressed, the Eagles developed the supporting cast around their top two players.

Sophomore guard Samara Morrow — the program’s point guard in waiting — provides five points and two assists per game.

Senior guard Hannah Rork has made considerable strides, averaging six points and four rebounds per contest while also typically guarding the opposing team’s best player. She was described by Joe Marsh as a “maniac on defense” who is “just all over the place” in their team’s full-court press.

Katie Snow, an undersized 5-foot-8 sophomore post, has stepped into a key role in her first varsity season. She adds five points and five rebounds per game and has been a “huge steadying force,” Joe Marsh said.

And as a freshman, 5-foot-11 forward Kierra Reese has chipped in six points and four rebounds per contest.

“We’ve found a way to fit all these pieces together, which has been really nice,” Joe Marsh said.

Arlington’s only two losses are to a pair of talented 4A teams in Tahoma and Woodinville. The Eagles lost to Tahoma in their first game back from a 23-day layoff between games. And they lost to Woodinville by just eight points, giving the 4A state championship favorite one of its toughest tests of the season.

The Eagles have won each of their other 19 games, including an unbeaten run through Wesco 3A/2A and district tournament play.

And last Friday night, Arlington was firing on all cylinders in an emphatic 76-45 state regional rout of No. 6 seed Kelso.

The Eagles used their high-pressure defense to ignite their lethal transition attack. They seamlessly shared the ball and executed their halfcourt offense to precision. And while scoring seemingly almost at will, they sure looked like a team that’s ready for the Tacoma Dome.

“It’s been really nice these last couple weeks to see this team really come together and play our best basketball,” Joe Marsh said. “… We feel pretty good about where we are right now.”

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