MILL CREEK — Four of the five starters for the Jackson girls basketball team are sophomores. All four of them are at least 5-foot-10, with three of them checking in at 6-foot or taller. A fifth sophomore, who’s 5-11, is the first or second player off the bench.
All of those facts would seem to indicate that there’s a good chance that the Timberwolves can enjoy some prosperity in the next couple of years as their core group of youngsters matures.
But Jackson is focusing on the present. The Timberwolves are trying to prove that they’re a good team right now.
They entered Wednesday’s home game against Mariner with a 5-6 Wesco 4A record, one game ahead of the Marauders for fourth place in the conference. Jackson expanded that lead to two games by defeating Mariner 65-51.
“We lost to them (earlier in the season), and we made some adjustments,” said Timberwolves sophomore Caitlin Monten, who scored 12 points. “We knew their plays, and we were able to read what they were going to do. We played more as a team. Our chemistry keeps improving.”
Coming into this season, it was apparent that the outcome of Jackson’s season would be largely dependent on how much the sophomores — Monten, Megan Mattison, Lauren Schillberg, Olivia Skibiel and Alexa Martin — progressed.
Skibiel was a varsity starter last season, and Mattison, Monten and Schillberg received varsity playing time. But entering this season they knew they’d have to be ready to take more prominent roles.
“Looking at their trajectory, they’d have to make a difference on the court from the start of the season,” said Timberwolves coach Duane Morris. “They’ve shown a maturity beyond their years. They understand the game and work well with the seniors.”
“I’ve played with most of them since the fourth grade,” Monten said. “We’ve played together for so long that I know where they’re going to be on the court, and I know that if I pass to them, they’ll know where to be. We’re not tentative (when we’re on the court together). Sometimes we get frustrated with each other, but at the end of the day we have each other’s backs.”
Since the fourth- and fifth-place teams from Wesco 4A will play each other in a first-round 4A District 1 contest next week, Wednesday’s game most likely served as a playoff preview. Morris said his team has essentially secured the fourth seed and will play Mariner again in Mill Creek next week.
“I think we can surprise some people (in the playoffs),” Monten said. “We’ve improved so much since the start of the season.”
The five Jackson (8-10 overall, 6-6 Wesco 4A) sophomores combined for 48 points Wednesday, with Skibiel leading the way with 16.
The Marauders (4-8, 7-11) still have a chance of eclipsing last season’s mark of eight wins. After years of struggling, things have gotten better for Mariner during the past couple of seasons.
In 2012-13, the Marauders suffered through a winless season. The next year, when the team’s current seniors were freshmen, the squad won one game. In 2014-15, Mariner’s win total climbed to four. The program’s improvement has been augmented by the arrival Hannah Hezekiah and Denisa Grebovic, who proved to be impact players from the moment they stepped on the court as freshmen two years ago.
“There’s been a lot of hard work by the girls, the coaches and the administration,” said Marauders coach Corey Gibb. “We’ve played 30, 40 games during summers, played in fall leagues. They realize that the more effort that they put in, the more it hurts to lose. It’s been a family affair, and they play for each other.”
Zaria Smith led Mariner with 17 points Wednesday.
“We lacked intensity,” Gibb said. “The coaches knew this was an important game, but we didn’t want to put too much pressure on (the players). They maybe didn’t understand the magnitude of the game.”