MILL CREEK — Some teams load up on nonleague cupcakes at the beginning of their season to let players gain confidence before the games really matter.
That wasn’t the case Thursday night when Jackson and Lake Stevens, the respective favorites to win the Wesco South and North divisions, opened their girls basketball seasons against each other.
Jackson, playing at home, led just about the whole way, but never completely broke free from a pesky Lake Stevens, topping the Vikings 58-50.
“It was a great start to the season to come away with a tough win,” Jackson forward Kristin Stoffel said.
Timberwolves guard Erin Feeney, a Western Washington recruit, was not the center of the Jackson attack as was the case a year ago when she led the team in scoring. Instead it was Stoffel with 18 points and junior Leigh-Ann Haataja with a game and career-high 20 points that made the Jackson engine run.
“Leigh-Ann is very athletic,” Jackson coach Jeannie Thompson said. “We knew coming into this year that once we got her into games her athleticism would take over.
The size and athleticism of Haataja proved to be a difficult matchup for the Vikings, whose lineup features just one six-footer. The 6-foot-2 Jackson post had her way inside on putbacks and close layins to the tune of 14 first half points before foul trouble kept her on the bench for much of the second half.
She picked up her third foul midway through the third quarter and Jackson lead 42-29. Lake Stevens was able to close the gap with a 12-4 run while she was gone, including the first 3:40 of the fourth quarter when the T-Wolves were held scoreless.
“We have to give Lake Stevens credit on that,” Thompson said.
Haataja, whose primary sport is volleyball, is still getting used to being aware of keeping herself in the game by not picking up unnecessary fouls.
“When it comes to fouls it’s being a little over aggressive,” Haataja said. “It’s definitely something I need to work on.”
Jackson all but sealed the game with a Feeney trey to open her team’s fourth-quarter scoring and a heads-up play by guard Jesssie Murphy. Murphy, a sophomore guard, stole an inbound pass coming off of a Lake Stevens timeout and fed Feeney for a wide open layup with 3:35 to go, pushing it back to a 10-point advantage.
For Lake Stevens the little mistakes like that kept them from really threatening.
“It’s a little disappointing with the mistakes,” Viking coach Randall Edens said. “We had brief stretches where we reverted to last year.”
Guard Sam Peterson had the first basket of the game and scored a layin as time expired, pushing her team-high total to 14 points.
“We have a resilient group,” Edens said. “It’s nice to see where we sit at this point. We’ve got some things to work on and try to clean up.”
Stoffel had a scary moment with seven minutes to go in the game when she went down with what appeared to be a knee injury. She returned to action to close the game and emerged from the locker room after the game with a bag of ice but will likely not have any lasting effects.
Stoffel’s continuing maturity will likely determine how for the Eighth-ranked Timberwolves go this year.
“She’s just a very solid player,” Thompson said. “Sometimes we forget that she’s only a sophomore.”
Thompson was relieved to notch the first victory of the year, but knows her girls have plenty to work on heading into a big game with Glacier Peak Monday that opens league play.
“We need to make sure our offense can stay in rhythym when defenses turn up the pressure on us,” Thompson said.
At Jackson H.S.
Lake Stevens—Goddard, Puha, Peterson, Bostwick, Warbis, Chantelle Burke, Corinne Burke, Schumacher, Molstre, Brittney Pahukoa, Brooke Pahukoa, Wilson. Jackson—Gjertsen, Coacher, Sam, Feeney, K. McArthur, M. McArthur, Johnson, Murphy, Bylsma, Guzman, King, Stoffel, Haataja. 3-point goals—xxx.
Lake Stevens — Peterson 14, Bostwick 1, Warbis 11, Co. Burke 11, Schumacher 5, Bolstre 4, Bro. Pahukoa 4. Jackson — Feeney 14, M McArthur 4, Bylsma 2, Stoffel 18, Haataja 20. 3-point goals — Jackson (Feeney 2, M McArthur), Lake Stevens (Peterson 2, Schumacher). Records — Lake Stevens 0-1 overall. Jackson 1-0.