Glacier Peak’s Aaliyah Collins steals the ball from Snohomish’s Cheyenne Rodgers as Glacier Peak beat Snohomish 50-39 in a non-league girls’ basketball game on Dec. 9 in Snohomish. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Glacier Peak’s Aaliyah Collins steals the ball from Snohomish’s Cheyenne Rodgers as Glacier Peak beat Snohomish 50-39 in a non-league girls’ basketball game on Dec. 9 in Snohomish. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Girls basketball preview: GP has championship mindset

The Grizzlies believe they have the pieces in place to compete with the state’s best.

The talent-rich Snohomish basketball pipeline has fed Glacier Peak coach Brian Hill’s girls program since the high school opened in 2008. A wealth of success has followed.

The Grizzlies first state berth came in 2011 (as a Class 3A school), and GP has been a perennial postseason player ever since.

While every basketball program begins the winter season thinking of capturing a state championship, for some teams the goal is more a dream than a reality. In 2015, Hill got a season-long, first-hand view of what it takes to actually make true on such lofty aspirations.

Hill’s Grizzlies were upset in the regional round of the 3A state tournament that year, but they were extremely competitive in a loaded Wesco 3A. Glacier Peak beat Lynnwood and Arlington during the 2014-15 season before Lynnwood went on to win a state championship and Arlington placed fourth in state. Although GP’s season ended unceremoniously, Hill had unearthed a blueprint to compete with the state’s best. He knew what it took, and he’s been searching for that extra bit to put the Grizzlies over the top ever since.

“I talk all the time about a championship mentality,” Hill said. “As a coach, I really try to listen to the most successful players and coaches, hear what they have to say and see how it translates. For us, it’s that we are here to play ball to the best of our ability every day, day in and day out. It doesn’t matter who wants to play us, we aren’t going to slack off. We are going to play the way we play.”

After moving up to 4A and placing second in state three years ago, and last year claiming fourth place despite beating the two state-title contending teams — Eastlake and Lewis & Clark — during the regular season, the Grizzlies are hoping their championship mindset, paired with a wealth of returning talent, might spawn the program’s first state championship.

“It is definitely talked about a lot,” said Glacier Peak junior guard Aaliyah Collins of Hill’s championship mindset message. “He will always bring it up and say, ‘If you want to be the No. 1 team in the state, you have to act like it and be like it at practices and work really hard.’ It motivates us to give our 100 percent at practice.”

Hill and the Grizzlies know they have plenty of work to do between now and a potential postseason berth, but given last season’s success and the fact GP returns five of its top 2018-19 scorers, the team has the pieces in place to compete with the state’s best.

Leading Glacier Peak is a talented group of juniors that improved during the offseason after playing starring roles as underclassmen a year ago. Collins’ 12.4 points per game paced a group of balanced Grizzly scorers. The other two junior standouts, guard Maya Erling and post Madison Rubino, averaged 8.4 and 6.8 points per game, respectively.

Hill is extremely excited about junior guard Malia Smith, who has always been a strong offensive contributor and is making strong improvements defensively. Seniors Shaylin Sande and Grace Godines and junior Madeline Thoma are also expected to be key contributors this season.

Hill believes another year of maturation and the return of so much experience will pay dividends. And with how close the Grizzlies came to winning a state title last year, especially given the teams they beat during the regular season, there is plenty of motivation for a return trip to the Tacoma Dome.

“I feel like, honestly, that is the biggest thing driving us to win this year,” said Collins of how last year’s state tournament finished. “As soon as we found out Eastlake won, we already wanted to play against them, and it’s been in our heads since then. It’s a great fire to light. It will just push us to beat them. To be the best, you have to show it first.”

While this year’s Grizzlies may largely look the same, Hill said the team is making some tactical adjustments. Strong defense, especially pressure defense leading to fast break scoring opportunity, is a hallmark of Glacier Peak basketball. That’s not going away, but Hill plans to be calculated with his defensive pressure.

“I think we are very similar to last year with a few differences,” Hill said. “We are going to keep defensive pressure, but not rely on it so heavily. At the end of the day, that is what got us a whole lot of wins. We just don’t want to be too one-dimensional. We don’t want to be predictable and want to change it up.”

True to Hill’s championship mindset message, every once in a while he’ll ask his girls to look along the ceiling at the banners hanging from Glacier Peak’s gym and observe accomplishments before posing a question.

“I point to the rafters a lot.” Hill said. “I ask them, ‘What do you want to put up there? How are we going to do that? How are we doing that? We can do that, but how are we going to do that?’ And a really big banner would be sweet. I think a state championship banner would be really cool. We are close. We are close, but nobody is going to give it to us.”

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