Glacier Peak’s Tucker Molina (5) and Tristen Bates (right) celebrate during the Grizzlies’ state regional win over Auburn this past Saturday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Glacier Peak’s Tucker Molina (5) and Tristen Bates (right) celebrate during the Grizzlies’ state regional win over Auburn this past Saturday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

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Glacier Peak boys take storybook 24-0 season to Tacoma Dome

With an array of playmakers and their usual stingy defense, the Grizzlies are state-title contenders.

Very few — if any — outside the Glacier Peak High School boys basketball program saw this coming.

Even for the most optimistic Grizzlies fan, a 24-0 record probably would’ve seemed like a pipe dream back in November.

After all, it’s rare for a team in the state’s highest classification to take an unblemished record into the Hardwood Classic. And even rarer for a team like Glacier Peak, which returned just two players — seniors Brayden Quantrille and Brayden Corwin— who played meaningful minutes last season.

“It’s so crazy to think about,” senior Tristen Bates said after the Grizzlies’ most recent victory. “Nobody predicted us to go 24-0.”

And yet, here they are.

In the midst of a dream season, Glacier Peak sports a perfect record and enters as one of the favorites to cut down the net at this week’s Class 4A Hardwood Classic.

The second-seeded Grizzlies’ latest triumph was an emphatic 69-43 state regional win over No. 7 seed Auburn on Saturday that earned them a first-round Hardwood Classic bye and advanced them to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2011. Glacier Peak begins its state-title quest Thursday night in the Tacoma Dome, needing three victories to capture the program’s first-ever state crown.

“This team is just really special,” Quantrille said.

Since the school opened in 2008, Glacier Peak’s program has been a model of consistency. The Grizzlies have made nine state appearances in their 12-year history and have earned six trips to the Tacoma Dome, with this being their fourth in a row.

At the center of their steady success has been a stifling defense. The Grizzlies have allowed an average of less than 50 points per game in seven of their 12 seasons.

Upon taking over the brand-new program in 2008, Glacier Peak coach Brian Hunter instilled a defense-first mentality. It stemmed from advice he picked up as an assistant under former Stanwood coach Nate DuChesne.

“Nate always told me that you have to have one thing that your program falls back on,” Hunter said. “Good times, bad times, when your team is maybe not as talented, you (need) that one thing. And so I always felt like that one thing for us is we’re gonna play unbelievable defense. And if we can get our kids to buy into doing that, then we can add those other pieces to it and our baseline will never be that low.”

With their length, relentless energy and an advanced understanding of schemes, the Grizzlies are once again elite defensively. They allow just 44.8 points per game, which is the best mark in program history and the best among the remaining 12 teams in the 4A state field.

Glacier Peak’s smothering defense held a pair of 4A state regional qualifiers under 30 points, limiting Inglemoor to 29 in the 4A Wes-King Bi-District Tournament title game and Jackson to just 27 in a league contest.

“This team is really long, and they know how to play (defense),” Hunter said. “Our guys understand angles and they understand maybe baiting a person into a certain pass. … And our guys have had awesome effort. All five guys are playing extremely hard together at the same time.”

Yet what separates these Grizzlies from previous Glacier Peak teams is their offensive firepower.

The Grizzlies average 68.1 points per game, which ranks fourth among the 12 remaining 4A teams. It’s the highest scoring mark in program history by nearly five points per contest.

Glacier Peak simply has more talented shooters and skilled ball-handlers than years past, which creates difficult matchups for opposing defenses.

“We have so many different guys who can shoot the basketball that it’s hard (for opponents),” Hunter said. “You can’t key on a certain player with us, and I think our guys have done a really good job of buying into the (mantra that the) next guy open is the best shot.

“This year, I think many times we have five guys on the floor that can handle the basketball,” he added. “That’s just so much harder to guard. … We just have so many more weapons and we’re just so much more diverse offensively.”

Tucker Molina, a uniquely skilled 6-foot-5 junior point guard, runs the offense and averages nearly 14 points per game. Quantrille provides veteran leadership and 13 points per contest. Sophomore sharpshooter Bobby Siebers, a transfer from North Kitsap who scores 11 points per game, has been a major boost. Corwin adds 10 points per contest, giving Glacier Peak four scorers who average in double figures.

Pierce Darlington, a 6-6 senior post, provides a strong interior presence and is a rebounding force. Bates and fellow senior guard Caleb Lee also have stepped into key roles as valuable rotation players.

“When you have good players ahead of you, it’s hard to be patient sometimes,” Hunter said. “… But this year with Caleb and Tristen and Tucker and Pierce, they’ve done an amazing job of stepping into the roles that were available to them, and they’ve kind of embraced being the next person up.

“It’s their time and their chance to become a really good player for us, and that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been so successful.”

With elite play on both sides of the ball, Glacier Peak has outscored opponents by 23.3 points per game and won all but five contests by double figures.

Yet while the Grizzlies haven’t played many close games, they demonstrated plenty of resolve during a pair of comeback wins over Wesco 4A runner-up Mariner.

In their first meeting, Glacier Peak overcame a 15-point third-quarter deficit. The Grizzlies then pulled off a similar feat in the rematch, rallying from an 11-point fourth-quarter hole before prevailing in a wild double-overtime contest.

“This team is resilient and really tough,” Hunter said. “We’ve had multiple games where we’ve had to dig deep and find ways to win.”

Despite all of their success this season, the Glacier Peak players said they still feel like underdogs.

“We still are playing with a chip on our shoulder,” Corwin said. “We still have (people) thinking that we’re gonna lose in state and just roll over.”

Glacier Peak suffered season-ending losses in the first round of the Hardwood Classic each of the past three years, with the past two coming by a combined four points.

Quantrille said those brutal defeats have added extra fuel throughout the Grizzlies’ program-best season.

“The past couple times (in the Tacoma Dome), it was kind of heartbreaking, … so it’s definitely a big motivation for us,” he said. “It has been the entire year.”

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