Lynnwood’s Aniya Hooker weaves her way ups the court against Everett on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, at Norm Lowery Gymnasium in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lynnwood’s Aniya Hooker weaves her way ups the court against Everett on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, at Norm Lowery Gymnasium in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Contenders again: Lynnwood girls primed for postseason run

After winning a state title in 2015, the Royals have slowly built back into a team ready to make waves in the playoffs.

BOTHELL — With the district playoffs set to begin this week, the Lynnwood girls basketball team is peaking at the perfect moment.

The Royals are back to being one of the prominent squads in Wesco, and it might be safe to say they’ll stick around for awhile.

Lynnwood (14-5, 12-3 Wesco 3A/2A) opens its district tournament on Friday as the No. 4 seed, squaring off against the winner of Shorecrest (No. 12) and Meadowdale (No. 5) at 7 p.m. at Lynnwood High School.

The Royals’ surge back into the top of the Wesco 3A/2A league standings has been a slow build over the past several seasons under head coach Eddie McFerrin, who took over in 2020.

Lynnwood’s star junior duo of Aniya Hooker and Kayla Lorenz have been lighting the way for a young group that’s making strides in the right direction.

“They’re still young and learning the system,” McFerrin said. “I think last year, with their first real look at a full season, they weren’t ready yet. This year, they’re really starting to buy into things. … I’m a really blessed coach, the girls have listened and do everything that’s asked of them.”

Hooker, a 5-foot-9 guard, has been a key orchestrator all season long, pumping in averages of 16.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists to go with 3.1 steals per contest, while Lorenz (6-foot-1) has blossomed into perhaps the team’s most reliable outside threat, putting up multiple 20 and 30-point efforts throughout the season. Both have tallied up over 700 career points.

Other juniors Mataya Canda and Teyah Clark, a Seattle Prep transfer, have also been instrumental. McFerrin also praised junior forward Nyree Johnson as the group’s top glue player.

“She’s 5-foot-5 and she’s playing the center for us,” McFerrin said. “She just makes the engine go, doesn’t back down from anybody. She’s sort of our muscle. We have so many pieces, and all of them are gelling and really enjoy each other from the outside in. We’re making some pretty big strides and I think it’s our time to make a run in the playoffs.”

An eight-game win streak from Dec. 27 through Jan. 19, as well as an important trio of victories to close out the year have put Lynnwood squarely back in the mix as Wesco title contenders.

The Royals’ three league losses have come to Wesco powerhouses Arlington (17-2), Stanwood (17-3) and Meadowdale (15-5).

From 2009-2018, Lynnwood was considered one the top programs in Snohomish County, making eight stops in the state regional round, as well as one Class 3A state championship in 2015. Before the Royals’ 2023 resurgence year, they compiled a 31-37 record over the previous four seasons, including bowing out in the districts in 2022 with back-to-back losses.

Hooker expressed that her team isn’t too concerned with some of the lofty expectations that may come in the future.

“Since we were in middle school we’ve kind of been put with that,” she said. “It doesn’t really put pressure on us, but it makes us want to work harder and make a name for ourselves. If we make a run, or whenever we make a run, it will make the program stand out even more.”

Hooker has steadily grown into the Royals’ vocal leader and lead distributor under McFerrin, and both feel that the extra work she’s put in on a daily basis has put her in a prime spot to shine this season.

“As a point guard, I got put into that role as a freshman,” Hooker said. “I’m just taking more initiative of it this year. The whole team relies on me to be the general, call out plays. I think staying in the gym extra, I think that’s been inspiring more people to want to do that. Doing stuff like that helps me with confidence as a leader, it’s helped the whole team.”

With Lynnwood sending off just two seniors after this season (Eve Pereira and McKenzie Ruse-Martin), there’s plenty of growth left as the Royals attempt to climb up the district tourney bracket.

“We’re taking it one game at a time and in the playoffs anything can happen,” McFerrin said. “The crazy thing is that I still have one more year with most of these girls, it’s kind of scary. I get to watch and have a front-row seat. I’m just excited to watch them take this journey.”

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