Glacier Peak’s Isaiah Cuellar (3) rises up to finish near the hoop during a bi-district title game against Mount Si on Feb. 16 at North Creek High School in Bothell. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Glacier Peak’s Isaiah Cuellar (3) rises up to finish near the hoop during a bi-district title game against Mount Si on Feb. 16 at North Creek High School in Bothell. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Resurgent Glacier Peak boys have exceeded expectations

After a rare losing season last year, a mix of breakout players and key additions have the Grizzlies back in the Hardwood Classic this winter.

SNOHOMISH — Glacier Peak coach Brian Hunter can’t help but be impressed with what his squad has accomplished.

After a rare losing season for the program, the Grizzlies are right back where they’re supposed to be. That’s playing at the Tacoma Dome during the final week of the season.

Glacier Peak returns to Tacoma for the first time since 2020 on Wednesday to face 13th-seeded Camas in the Class 4A Hardwood Classic round of 12 at 7:15 p.m., and it’s been a perfect storm of events that’s gotten the Grizzlies their with a No. 4 seeding.

“I truthfully did not expect this level of success out of this group,” Hunter. “It’s hard to completely know what you’re going to have. I thought we could be a solid team, but I think they’ve exceeded that a little bit.”

Hunter coached Glacier Peak for 14 seasons before taking a year away from the program last winter. In his absence the Grizzlies went 9-10 and missed the District 1/2 tournament, but Glacier Peak (22-3) has readjusted on the fly and gotten it done with a combination of breakout players, key additions and a strong group of underclassmen this season.

The emergence of 6-foot-2 junior guard Jo Lee and Isaiah Cuellar has created a dynamic backcourt pairing for the Grizzlies.

Lee, who is one of two players (Samuel Waldow) remaining with the squad from Hunter’s previous tenure, is in the midst of a breakout year as a go-to scorer, averaging 23 points, four rebounds and four assists per game. Cuellar adds 16 points, five rebounds and three assists per outing.

Glacier Peak’s Jo Lee splits the lane against Kamiak on Feb. 1 at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Glacier Peak’s Jo Lee splits the lane against Kamiak on Feb. 1 at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Cuellar, along with 6-foot-5 post Adam Loum, both transferred from Mariner for their senior seasons and have added a competitive edge to the group.

“With Hunter coming back and with Isaiah and Adam transferring, we were ready to get back at it,” Lee said. “(Hunter) was super excited coming back in the summer, that’s kind of where it all started.”

Cuellar and Loum bring postseason experience from their years playing for Mariner, as the Marauders booked state tournament appearances in 2022 and 2023.

“I think I’ve brought my mentality with me,” Cuellar said. “I’m a dog, and my mentality is to get it done under any circumstance. This squad is really nice, because they’ve accepted me with open arms and they let me lead the group even though I’m new.”

Lee, who popped off for a school record 49 points against Bothell on Dec. 7 and passed the 1,000-career point milestone in a district playoff victory over Lake Stevens on Feb. 9, has embraced the two senior additions.

“They’ve brought a lot of energy and brought us together off the rip,” Lee said. “They came in just like it was normal. It was instantly just a bond with the team.”

Glacier Peak’s Isaiah Cuellar helps up teammate Jo Lee during a game against Kamiak on Feb. 1 at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Glacier Peak’s Isaiah Cuellar helps up teammate Jo Lee during a game against Kamiak on Feb. 1 at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

With a roster featuring just four seniors, the Grizzlies have gotten important contributions from some of their underclassmen. Sophomore playmaker Reed Nagel is averaging nine points, six boards and five assists, while 6-foot-4 freshman Zachary Albright is off to an impressive start in his high school career, offering eight points and nine rebounds a game. Jayce Nelson, a junior, supplies per-game averages eight points, eight boards and five assists.

“It’s a wide mix of classes,” Hunter said. “I think that speaks to how these guys feel about each other. If you saw our team at practice or at games, you’d have a hard time determining which kid is a senior based on their interactions. They’re not cliquish at all.”

Glacier Peak players cheer during a boys bi-district title game against Mount Si on Feb. 16 at North Creek High School in Bothell. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Glacier Peak players cheer during a boys bi-district title game against Mount Si on Feb. 16 at North Creek High School in Bothell. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

After starting the season with a 13-game winning streak and entering the 4A District 1/2 championship game with a 22-1 mark, the Grizzlies dropped their last two postseason tilts. Glacier Peak clinched its state berth in the district semifinals with a 74-47 win over Redmond before falling to 4A powerhouse Mount Si 59-53 in the district final. In the opening round of regionals, the Grizzlies fell to Davis 65-54 with a chance to advance straight into Thursday’s quarterfinals.

But the Grizzlies are hoping build off what they learned in those recent losses.

“Our team is super focused right now,” Cuellar said. “We’re all locked in and we’re playing together. … I think playing some of these recent state-caliber teams has been a great test for us. All the teams we’ve played are really solid, it’s really good preparation for us going into the Dome.”

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