The 2021 high school boys basketball season was one marked by sheer dominance from Mariner High School.
Lockdown defensive performances, impressive scoring outputs and blowout victories were the norm for the Marauders as they ripped through the abbreviated season with a perfect 10-0 record.
The team led all 22 Wesco squads in scoring (71.4 points per game), fewest points allowed (48.0) and average point differential (plus-23.4) while achieving what would could be considered the most successful regular season in program history.
“What led us to perform this year is the feeling of, ‘What do we have to lose?’” senior Henry Avra said. “We could play our heart out every night, and we have really good chemistry together. That helped us get on runs and blow teams out.”
The impressive campaign marks the culmination of what’s been a massive turnaround and culture shift under fifth-year coach Tevin Dillon.
In Dillon’s first two seasons at the helm, Mariner won just three games each year. But that changed during the 2018-19 season when the Marauders posted their first winning season since 2009 and made a run to the regional round of the Class 4A state tournament.
Last season, they finished second in Wesco 4A at 11-3 in league play, which included the team’s first victory over Jackson since 2009 and a down-to-the-wire showdown with conference power Glacier Peak where Mariner fell just short in a 90-87 double overtime loss to the eventual unbeaten league champs.
Mariner dismantled Glacier Peak 64-36 in their only meeting this season. It was the Marauders’ first win over the Grizzlies since 2009.
“Really the biggest thing is guys being committed to what we wanna do,” Dillon said. “They do a good job of that. They do a good job of buying into coaching regardless of what we have, the talent we have, where we’re at. Even a few years ago when we didn’t quite have as much talent — we were small — they all bought in to, ‘This is what we gotta do to win.’”
Dillon believes the program’s prior struggles weren’t due to a lack of talent. It was a lack of cohesiveness.
“I think we struggled with selfishness,” he said. “It’s always kind of beat us up as a program. My first two years the guys weren’t really together as one. We had good enough talent to win games, but they never bought in to, ‘This is what it takes to win.’ And I think that has changed.”
The change started with an emphasis on defense, an area of the game Mariner has shown incremental strides in during Dillon’s tenure. Mariner allowed 66.6 points per game during his first year and has improved upon that number in each season since.
Playing defense “comes with being unselfish,” Dillon said.
Dillon highlighted sophomore Jailin Johnson, junior Tijan Saine and junior Naser Motley for their ability to apply pressure on the perimeter this season, noting that Johnson primarily guarded opposing point guards and picked them up full court. He also praised senior BJ Kolly’s rim-protecting presence in the post and Avra’s capability of guarding any position on the floor.
Mariner’s unselfish play was evident in its offensive totals this season too.
Avra, Saine, Kolly, Motley and junior Dakota Joseph each had at least three games scoring in double figures.
“Everybody in this program just clicks,” Avra said, “and that’s what makes this program and winning season fun.”
Avra is one of four seniors on Mariner’s roster. He was a first-team All-Wesco 4A selection last season and has been instrumental in the Marauders’ resurgence. He became Mariner’s starting center as a sophomore despite standing just 6-feet tall at the time.
“The biggest thing that Henry has given to this team is just his dedication,” Dillon said. “Showing that dedication and coming to practice everyday and competing every day in practice has really built up everyone else to what we expect. He’s been here for all these years. He’s played the five for me all the way to the point guard. He’s that type of kid.
“He’ll do anything the coaches ask and he works hard at it. He’s meant a lot to me as a coach and to our team and program.”
Avra called his experience in the program a “blessing.”
“We really just worked and worked and got better every single year,” he said. “It’s been fun.”
The success of the past three seasons has also been a special experience for Dillon, a 2009 Mariner graduate.
“It makes me super proud,” he said. “I really feel like Mariner as a community and Mariner as a basketball team has changed my life. It helped me so much along the way. It hurt to see us down at the bottom and to hear people talk about Mariner like they’re terrible. These kids can feel it from me, too. I’m hard on them, and that’s what I love about the Mariner kids — they’re super resilient. No matter the situation they go through, no matter what’s going on, they fight through it.
“It means a lot for me to be a part of it and coach these guys.”
Here’s a look at some of the other top teams from the 2021 season:
The Scots didn’t skip a beat after last season’s run to the Class 3A Northwest District title game and a state regional appearance. Led by standout junior guard Elijah Johnson, Shorecrest compiled a 9-1 record with its only loss coming to unbeaten Mariner. The Scots proved clutch in key moments as they went 5-0 in games decided by four points or less, including a trio of two-point victories through the season’s first five games over teams that finished the season over .500. Johnson, Kai Cannady and Keaine Simon each hit game-winning shots in the final seconds to secure the three two-point wins.
The Cougars’ high-powered offense helped lead an impressive 9-1 Wesco debut for a squad coming off its first-ever state tournament appearance. Lakewood’s 70.5 points per game and plus-13.1 average point differential each ranked second in Wesco. The Cougars won four games by 23 points or more and failed to reach the 60-point mark in only one game, a loss to unbeaten Mariner. Lakewood’s success came a season after the team graduated six seniors — including the program’s career scoring leader, Alex Jensen.
Senior Shea Dixon averaged 21.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, junior Blake Conyers averaged 12.0 points and 7.0 rebounds and junior Justice Taylor added 12.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game.
The Vikings went 8-2 and earned their first winning campaign since the 2011-12 season. Lake Stevens surpassed 80 points twice and its 65.2 points per game ranked fourth in Wesco. Four different Vikings averaged double figures in scoring this season, including junior Grayson Murren at 14.2 points per game and sophomore Maddox Preder at 11.5. Murren, a 6-foot-5 forward, added 8.5 rebounds per contest and 2.2 blocks. Preder shot 40% from 3-point range and dished out 3.0 assists per game.
Lake Stevens, which has just three seniors, surpassed its win total of seven from last season despite playing 11 fewer games.
The Hawks continued their winning ways as they compiled a sixth consecutive season above .500 at 8-2. Mountlake Terrace allowed the second fewest points per game in Wesco (48.8) and used a balanced scoring attack while posting a plus-11.6 average point differential. The Hawks closed their season with an impressive win over Kamiak and their two losses came by a combined 11 points to unbeaten Mariner and 9-1 Shorecrest.
Senior Jace Breakfield nearly averaged a double-double with 12 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. Junior Jeffrey Anyimah added 9.1 points and 3.3 assists per contest.
The Grizzlies went 7-2 this season and extended their impressive streak of consecutive winning seasons to 13, a mark that dates back to the program’s inaugural campaign in 2008-09. Glacier Peak wasn’t as dominant as it has been in past seasons, but the Grizzlies proved they’re still one of the area’s top teams after graduating six seniors from a squad that placed fifth at the 4A state basketball tournament in 2020. Glacier Peak’s stellar defense was key as it held opponents to 51.7 points per game, third best in Wesco.
Junior Bobby Siebers led the Grizzlies with 19.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Senior Tucker Molina, a 6-foot-7 wing, stuffed the stat sheet on his way to averaging 15.8 points, 7.2 assists and 6.2 rebounds per contest.
The Timberwolves rebounded from a pair of early season losses to post a 7-3 record and their 16th straight regular season above .500. Junior Drilon Veliu and sophomore Sylas Williams were key for a junior-laden Jackson team tasked with replacing the production of a trio of all-league performers from last season’s squad that made the 4A state regionals. Veliu provided the Timberwolves with 15.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game. Williams posted 15.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per contest.
Jackson outscored teams by an average of 11.9 points per game in its seven victories, and its three losses came to teams with a combined 22-7 record.
After back-to-back losing season, the Knights returned to the top half of the Wesco standings with a 7-3 record under first-year coach Joe DeGrazia. Kamiak won six straight games by an average 23.5 points per contest after losing a down-to-the-wire battle against Shorecrest on a buzzer-beating tip-in in the season opener. The Knights’ three losses came against teams with a combined 27-3 record.
Kamiak was led by a potent offense that was third in Wesco with 66.7 points per game. Senior Brendan Beier led the charge with 18.0 points per game while shooting 51% from the field. He also posted 6.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals per contest. Senior Jaye Ohonme added 11.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, and senior Glenn Wabaluku averaged 8.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists.
The Wildcats enjoyed a breakthrough season under first-year coach Riley Bettinger after spending their first two years in Wesco trying to find their footing. Archbishop Murphy (7-3) nearly matched its combined Wesco win total of eight from the past two seasons despite playing 17 fewer games. All seven of the Wildcats’ victories came by at least nine points, and their three losses came to teams with a combined 24-6 record, including a two-point loss to Shorecrest with standout guard Zach Ingle sidelined due to injury.
Ingle led Archbishop Murphy with 16.3 points per game in the eight games he played in full. He shot 43.3% from beyond the arc.