Kamiak’s Sarah Payne (second from right) looks to pass with teammates Hunter Beirne (left), Alex Gallaher (second from left) and Karsen Alexander defending during practice on Feb. 23, 2017, at Kamiak High School in Mukilteo. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Determined Kamiak girls ready for another elimination contest

The Kamiak girls basketball team has a lot of obvious strengths: shooting, quickness, defensive intensity, experience.

What the Knights don’t have a lot of is height; none of their rotation players are taller than 5-foot-9. More often than not they’ll play teams that have at least one 6-footer and maybe more.

Of course, that kind of disadvantage is something that Kamiak’s players have no control over, so they don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it. Instead, they find ways to compensate. The Knights are good at using their strengths to cover up for their weaknesses.

“We’re 5-9 going against 6-0, 6-2, that’s a big difference,” said Kamiak senior wing Sarah Payne. “But we can’t think about it. It’s definitely a challenge, but every practice is focused on rebounding and boxing out — like a constant reminder. We’re so used to it now.

“We don’t have a ton of post play. I’m one of the tallest girls and I always work my way out (to the perimeter) because (otherwise) I’ll get blocked by trees.”

The Knights’ style of play has yielded mostly positive results this season. They finished the regular season with a 13-7 record and a third-place finish in Wesco 4A. They then won four of their five 4A District 1 tournament games, including three straight loser-out contests to clinch a berth to the state tournament regional round for a second consecutive season.

They’ll take on Auburn Riverside at 6 p.m. Friday in Puyallup in another elimination contest.

“We took it one game at a time (during the district tournament) and didn’t take our opponents for granted because we knew every team could beat us,” said Kamiak senior point guard Aliea Marrero. “We thought it was our last game every single game, and we played our hearts out.

“I think we know that no matter how many games we win or how many games we lose, there’s never a time when we’re out of it. A lot of people have counted us out, but we made it to regionals last year, we made it to regionals this year and hopefully we can get (to the Hardwood Classic).”

To secure their spot in the regional round, the Knights had to vanquish one of their toughest rivals. Lake Stevens had defeated Kamiak twice in the regular season and again in a second-round district tournament game, and matched up with the Knights once more in a winner-to-regional, loser-out contest Feb. 18.

In that game, Kamiak found a way to win, posting a 47-44 victory.

“We definitely used the (previous) losses to fuel our fire in wanting to beat them,” Knights senior wing Jamie Beirne said. “But we also had to take the mistakes that we had made and put them behind us. We looked at their team and addressed our main problems, things that we needed to focus on during the game. Kylee (Griffen) is one of their best players, and we had to figure out how to guard her. We had to figure out how to break their zone. Once we were able to do that, we were able to do some good things.”

Kamiak knew it could win three straight loser-out playoff games because it did the exact same thing last season to clinch a regional berth.

“They’ve all been through it before,” Knights coach Brian Norman said. “They’ve all had the opportunity to be down late in games, and they don’t fold. This has been a special group — they always play hard, they support each other and they’re team-oriented. They’re confident in themselves and confident in how they play.”

The team’s veteran leadership — its roster features 10 upperclassmen, including a group of seven seniors that have been playing together for a long time — also helped in those situations.

“The seven seniors said, ‘OK, it’s not going to end now,’” said Kamiak senior wing Kate Huguenin. “I remember our huddle as we went out to the court for the fourth quarter (of the last Lake Stevens game) — everyone knew we weren’t done. This is our last rally together. We have confidence in each other because a lot of us have been playing together since fifth or sixth grade. Having so much chemistry together, it’s easy to know that we can do it.”

Now the Knights turn their attention to their regional contest, which, coincidentally, will be played in the same gymnasium (Rogers High School) as the Knights’ regional loss to Kentlake last season.

The Ravens have a lot of size — a 6-3 post and a couple of other 6-footers. But of course, the Kamiak won’t be intimidated by that fact.

“(Auburn Riverside) presents a good challenge, and I think the girls are ready for it,” Norman said. “You always want to go further than you did the year before, and for us, this is that game. We have good senior leadership and good athleticism and good shooting, and we play hard on defense. If we put all of that stuff together, we can be very successful.”

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