LYNNWOOD — With the bulk of its roster returning from last winter’s Cinderella run to the state regionals, the Meadowdale High School girls basketball team has high hopes for this season.
The Mavericks showcased their talent and potential Tuesday night while defeating a perennial area power.
Meadowdale built a 16-point third-quarter lead and fended off a late Snohomish comeback bid, earning a 47-41 win over the visiting Panthers in an early-season clash of Wesco 3A/2A contenders.
“It was one of their goals, especially the seniors,” Mavericks coach Arie Mahler said of beating Snohomish, which placed fourth in last year’s Class 3A state tournament. “It feels good. Snohomish has had a stellar program for years, (and) they still do.
“One of the things we’re trying to emphasize this year is the journey — not just the end goal, but it’s the journey and it’s about the process of how we get to that end goal. And this was one of those steps.”
Meadowdale (3-1, 1-0 Wesco 3A/2A) returned its top five scorers and eight of 13 players from last season’s team, which entered its district tournament as the No. 8 seed before rattling off three straight wins to earn its first state berth since 2009.
The underdog Mavericks then nearly advanced to the Tacoma Dome for the Hardwood Classic, but suffered a heartbreaking 41-40 season-ending loss to West Seattle after a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced twice off the rim and fell to the floor.
That storybook postseason run — and its painful ending — have fueled Meadowdale this season.
“Honestly, it was huge,” Mahler said. “Where I really noticed it was with my seniors and the leadership that they’re now exhibiting this year. They take to heart more about focusing on the details. … The team is hungry, so we’re definitely building from it.”
After a slow start against Snohomish’s traditionally stingy defense, the Mavericks found their offensive rhythm and pulled in front during the second quarter. Meadowdale senior Alicia Morrison swished a 3-pointer in the final minute of the first half, giving the Mavericks a 24-20 lead heading into the break.
Meadowdale then clamped down on defense in the third quarter, rattling off a 14-2 run while holding Snohomish (1-5, 1-1) without a field goal until the closing moments of the period.
“Coming out of halftime, communication (on defense) was really big,” Mavericks junior post Fatoumata Jaiteh said. “We were like, ‘We’ve gotta talk. Like, if we want to keep our feet on the gas pedal and really bring out this (win), we’ve gotta talk.’ And so we did that.”
And with its defense forcing turnovers and getting stops, Meadowdale used the opportunity to push the pace and score transition baskets with its array of athletic guards.
“We want to transition more this year,” Mahler said. “I tell them every game, we want to get 60, 70, 80% of our points off of transition buckets, so it starts there. And it kind of fires us up.”
The Mavericks led 38-22 late in the third quarter and held a 14-point advantage with less than five minutes remaining in the contest, but the Panthers stormed back with a 13-1 run.
Snohomish sophomore Cheyenne Rogers sparked the late surge with a pair of 3-pointers, and junior Kayla Soderstrom rattled in a corner 3-pointer to cut Meadowdale’s lead to 41-39 with 1:41 to play.
But after seeing their double-digit lead whittled all the way down, the Mavericks stayed composed.
Jaiteh drew a foul inside and hit two free throws, pushing the margin back to four points. Then after a defensive stop, Morrison made a layup and Meadowdale senior Soriah Swinton added two more free throws to seal the victory.
“One of our goals was to beat Snohomish and a couple other big teams in our league (to) really set ourselves up for postseason,” Jaiteh said. “It was a big win. … It feels great.”
Jaiteh led the Mavericks with 15 points and displayed her interior prowess with some nice moves in the post.
“Honestly, it kind of starts with her,” Mahler said. “She gets so much attention. … One on one, she’s almost unstoppable. So they pretty much have to always dedicate two people to her.”
Morrison added 14 points for the Mavericks and Swinton scored eight.
“We have such athleticism, and we have different types of guards,” Mahler said. “… I’ve got all these interchangeable pieces out there, which is great.”
Snohomish sophomore guard Ella Gallatin scored a team-high 18 points and Rodgers added 11 points.
The Panthers were without senior guard Kinslee Gallatin, who was sidelined with a quad injury, according to coach Ken Roberts.
Snohomish graduated its top two scorers from last year’s team, which captured the program’s third top-four state trophy in four seasons.
Similar to previous years, the Panthers have once again played an arduous non-league schedule. Their 1-5 start includes losses to defending 3A state champion Prairie, 4A fourth-place finisher Glacier Peak and unbeaten Union. Snohomish began last season 3-6 before winning 16 of its final 18 games.
“There needs to be more consistency from us,” Roberts said. “We’ve tended to have one bad quarter in every game so far against the good teams we’ve played, and it costs you when you do. … The kids worked hard in the fourth, but there was too big of a lull.”