Jackson’s Olivia Skibiel (right) dribbles past Mariner’s Hannah Hezekiah during a Feb. 8 game in Mill Creek. Skibiel, a senior, will continue her career at North Dakota State next season. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Jackson’s Olivia Skibiel (right) dribbles past Mariner’s Hannah Hezekiah during a Feb. 8 game in Mill Creek. Skibiel, a senior, will continue her career at North Dakota State next season. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Girls basketball season preview: 5 storylines to watch

Here are five things to keep an eye on as girls basketball gets rolling in the area.

Five storylines to watch from the local girls basketball scene this winter:

1 Wesco 4A looks like a three-team race

Lake Stevens and Glacier Peak have finished one-two in Wesco 4A the past two seasons — and they look to be the top contenders for a conference title once again.

Glacier Peak has seen a slew of talented players graduate from its program over the past few years, but it’s hard to imagine the Grizzlies entering hibernation mode after winning at least 14 games in each season since the school opened in 2008.

The Vikings graduated standout Kylee Griffen, who is at Gonzaga University, but still figure to be a contender for the league’s crown. Lake Stevens is challenged with the task of navigating a tough first-half schedule that includes matchups with Edmonds-Woodway, Jackson, Snohomish and Lynden Christian, with a roster that looks much different than expected at the end of last season. Vikings coach Randy Edens confirmed that standout guard Raigan Reed is suspended, three sophomores from last year didn’t return to the team and other players that were expected to be contributors this year are dealing with injuries. But the Vikings have still shown that they can be formidable this season with a 15-point victory over Arlington.

Throw in a talented Jackson squad, which boasts North Dakota State signee Olivia Skibiel and impact freshman Mackendra Konig, and it should be an interesting race for supremacy in Wesco 4A.

2 Stanwood enters a new era after program’s best finish at state

The Spartans are coming off a program-best sixth-place finish at the Class 3A state tournament, but an offseason of turnover likely will cause Stanwood to take a step back after last year’s state semifinal appearance.

Longtime coach Dennis Kloke retired and the Spartans graduated four seniors — three of whom are playing at the collegiate level — who played heavy minutes and were key components to the team’s success.

Stanwood enters its first season under head coach Nick Amrine, who spent 10 of the past 13 seasons as an assistant for the Everett Community College women’s program, and returns only one starter — senior Madison Chisman.

“We’re gonna lean heavy on her,” Amrine said. “She’s a hard-nosed kid that is 100 percent every possession. She sticks her nose in there and defends, rebounds, does whatever the team needs her to do.”

Amrine said he expects seniors Koa Beck and Allie Jones, and juniors Shelby Lund and Madison Plautz to be key contributors alongside Chisman.

“Those four have been playing together since like fourth or fifth grade, so that’s a nice core,” Amrine said. “They haven’t had that opportunity at the varsity level to play, so they’ll have a little something to prove.”

3 After a late-season surge, Lynnwood figures to contend in Wesco 3A

The Royals caught fire at the right time last season, earning the Northwest District third and final 3A state tournament berth after a red-hot postseason run.

After an 11-9 regular season, Lynnwood won four of five games at the district tournament to take third place. The Royals’ run included two wins over Edmonds-Woodway, which beat Lynnwood 81-57 in the regular season.

The Royals return juniors Amayah Kirkman and Nakia Boston, a second-team all-conference selection. Kirkman is averaging 28.3 points per contest through the team’s first three games this season.

4 Can Snohomish’s suffocating defense propel the Panthers to another title?

Season-low point totals and playing the Panthers have become synonymous for Wesco opponents over the years.

Snohomish hasn’t allowed an average of more than 40 points per game in a season since the 2011-2012 campaign and last season held eight of 12 Wesco 3A teams to their lowest point totals of the year. The Panthers’ smothering defense twice held teams to single digits last season.

One key for Snohomish is that it’s opponents can’t be sure what they’re going to see from the Panthers defensively.

“We run whatever we need to put teams in a tough position,” Panthers coach Ken Roberts said. “We’ve changed it up over the years. We’ve ran man, zone, gimmicks, anything. … We’ve never been married to a defense.”

Roberts and his team will adjust year-to-year or even game-to-game to run a defense that they feel best gives the team the ability to give opposing offenses fits.

Snohomish’s philosophy is simple: Make opponents make plays — not run them.

“I think that if you do a good job in girls basketball of not allowing teams to run plays and make individual players make plays, especially if you can make it not be their two or three best players, that’s a pretty good philosophy,” Roberts said.

Another key to the success on defense is playing sound offense, which includes limiting live-ball turnovers.

“If you’re in trouble don’t turn one mistake into two,” Roberts said. “You just can’t afford the type of turnovers that turn into lay-ins.”

Snohomish, which failed to reach the Class 3A state tournament last season after going undefeated in conference play, will benefit on the defensive end from the return of the team’s No. 1 defender, junior Kinslee Gallatin. The 5-foot-10 guard missed the last six games of the 2017-2018 season after suffering a torn ACL in a January game against Stanwood.

Roberts highlighted senior Maya DuChesne and freshman Ella Gallatin as other key defenders for this season’s team.

The Panthers will be missing one key defender on this year’s team. Kyra Beckman, a Brigham Young University signee, is out for the season with an injury suffered in June.

“Your goal on defense can’t be to not let the other team get a shot,” Roberts said. “If you do, you’re going to be fouling, you’re going to be too aggressive and you’re going to be in foul trouble at the end of the game. Your goal is to make them take a tough shot or make somebody on the other team shoot other than their best player.”

Snohomish is an early favorite to compete for another Wesco 3A title, but figures to have stiff competition near the top from Edmonds-Woodway, Lynnwood and others.

5 Deep King’s squad is the clear front-runner in the North Sound Conference

The Knights are coming off a season that left them one basket shy of reaching its first Class 1A Hardwood Classic appearance since 2016. The near-miss marked first time King’s has missed the state tournament in consecutive years since 1992.

In fact, reliving the missed shot on its final possession of the season is how the team started its season.

“(It was) just as an opportunity for them to see that we have unfinished business and we missed an opportunity that could have gone either way,” Knights coach Dan Taylor said. “Hopefully it would stir a hunger that they would want to pursue another opportunity, another chance to be in that situation and find a different outcome.”

King’s returns a bevy of talent from last year’s youth-laden squad, including three all-conference selections: senior Dominique Kirton (second team) and sophomores Claire Gallagher (first team) and Mia Flor (second team).

Taylor said that this is one of the deepest teams he’s coached and the team has the personnel to throw out different starting lineups based on matchups and who has the hot-hand.

In addition, the Knights bring in freshman Jada Wynn, the daughter of University of Washington women’s basketball coach Jody Wynn, who Taylor said brings a high basketball IQ to an already deep squad.

King’s hasn’t claimed a conference title since the 2015-2016 season, but the Knights’ top competition in recent years, Archbishop Murphy, is now in Wesco.

“I’m bummed that we lost two pretty good, competitive programs in Cedarcrest and Archbishop (Murphy), and I wish them well,” Taylor said. “But I am excited for the new change. I’m excited for the new look where everyone in the league is 1A.”

The Knights are the clear favorites in the preseason coaches poll and haven’t lost to a North Sound Conference team since falling to Coupeville on Jan. 29, 2010 — a streak of 68 straight games.

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