Stanwood’s Jillian Heichel (left) takes a shot as Snohomish’s Kaylin Beckman defends during a Jan. 24 game at Snohomish High School. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Stanwood’s Jillian Heichel (left) takes a shot as Snohomish’s Kaylin Beckman defends during a Jan. 24 game at Snohomish High School. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Spartans seeking ‘redemption,’ return trip to Tacoma Dome

A year after losing its two state tournament games, Stanwood is eager to return to the Tacoma Dome.

STANWOOD — After getting a taste of the Tacoma Dome last season, the Stanwood girls basketball team is hungry to get back.

The 10th-seeded Spartans can punch their ticket to Tacoma for a second consecutive season by beating Wesco rival and No. 15 seed Lynnwood in a loser-out Class 3A state regional game Saturday night at Jackson High School.

“They’ve had their sights set on (advancing to Tacoma),” Stanwood coach Dennis Kloke said. “Last year was an introduction to it, and they just got hungrier.”

The Spartans advanced to the Hardwood Classic at the Tacoma Dome last season for the first time since 1998, but their stay wasn’t long. Stanwood went 0-2, managing just 37 points in a state quarterfinal loss to Lincoln before losing to Lynnwood in a consolation game.

But after returning most of their players from last year’s squad and reaching the state regionals for a second consecutive season, the Spartans are one win away from a return trip to Tacoma.

“It’d kind of be redemption for us,” Stanwood senior Jillian Heichel said, “because the first time around, we didn’t play our best basketball. I think we have experience now, and (could) definitely do better than we did last year.”

The Spartans (16-6) are coming off a milestone win last Saturday, beating Shorecrest in the 3A Northwest District title game. It was the program’s first district crown since the 1990s, according to Kloke.

“That was just a really big moment for us to share together,” Heichel said.

The path to the district title included a semifinal win over Wesco 3A champion Snohomish. The victory avenged a 61-39 regular-season loss to the Panthers.

Kloke said the difference in the rematch was improved health, along with a full-court press that neutralized Snohomish post Kyra Beckman by reducing the amount of time the Panthers had to run through their offensive sets.

“We were healthy for three games in a row (in district), which has been big for us because we’ve kind of been plagued with sickness and some injuries through most of the season,” Kloke said.

“And we’ve improved defensively. The young ladies have been doing an excellent job of … controlling the opponents’ top scorers.”

Stanwood is led by seniors Ashley Alter, Kaitlin Larson, Heichel and Kayla Frazier, each of whom are four-year varsity players. The seniors have been playing with each other since elementary school and won an AAU state title together as eighth graders.

“Those four have been some of the best examples of how to approach practice … and how to prepare for contests,” Kloke said. “Each of them are unique in their skills.”

Alter, a Seattle Pacific University-bound guard, leads the Spartans with 16.5 points per game. Larson, a versatile post, averages 11.8 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds per contest. Heichel also averages 11.8 points per game, shooting 47 percent from 3-point range. Frazier provides a team-high 2.5 assists per contest and helps anchor the defense.

Madison Chisman, a junior forward, averages 12.3 points and 6.2 rebounds as part of a high-scoring Stanwood attack that thrives on transition opportunities and features an array of scoring options.

“If someone gets shut down, we always have another option,” Heichel said. “We have a lot of different looks we can go to, and different players who can score.”

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