In years past, the idea of Sultan High School girls basketball winning a league title likely would’ve been a pipe dream.
That was simply the reality of the Turks spending most of their recent history in a league dominated by private-school powerhouses King’s and Archbishop Murphy. Year after year, it was seemingly almost a foregone conclusion that one of those two teams would claim the league championship.
But after moving to a new competitively balanced league this season, Sultan had a chance to truly contend.
And the Turks made the most of it.
Led by star junior Grace Trichler, the Sultan girls basketball team earned a share of the Emerald Sound Conference’s Coho Division title last week by finishing 9-3 in league play. The Turks tied with Bear Creek for first place atop the seven-team Coho Division, which is the lower of the two competitively balanced tiers in the new conference.
It marks Sultan’s first winning season since 2009-10 — and just the progam’s second winning season in at least 15 years.
“It means a lot, because a lot of us have never been through anything like (this), or even really watched or experienced something like getting all of the (attention) we’re getting for all of a sudden winning all of these games,” Trichler said. “It’s meant a lot to all of the girls that we’re finally starting to win.”
Despite it being an abbreviated season, Sultan has won more games this spring than it did in any season since 2009-10. Over the previous decade, the Turks averaged just 5.4 wins per year, with the low point being a 1-19 campaign in 2017-18.
Sultan has a chance to add to its win total during this week’s Emerald Sound Conference tournament, which includes both of the conference’s divisions. The No. 7-seeded Turks host No. 10 seed South Whidbey on Monday night in the opening round of the 12-team event.
“It’s really been a culture change and an uplifting experience for the kids,” third-year Sultan coach Todd Weideman said. “They’ve really embraced the winning culture and playing for each other.”
The Turks are led by Trichler, who was named the Coho Division’s player of the year. The talented junior guard averages 25.1 points per game, accounting for about half of Sultan’s scoring. She also averages 6.5 steals per game, while typically guarding the opposing team’s best player.
“What a coach’s dream to have a player of that caliber,” Weideman said. “She puts in all the extra effort making herself better, doing stuff in the offseason and her daily workouts and stuff like that. The team rallies around her (and) she does everything that she can to help carry the team and make her teammates better.”
But Weideman said this season’s success goes beyond just Trichler.
“Obviously, having Grace is a huge (part),” he said. “(But it’s also) each player knowing their role, embracing the role of a teammate, doing what’s right for the team (and) putting the extra effort in to getting better. It’s just been a great experience this year for them.”
And of course, the Turks have benefited from a more level playing field than what they experienced during their Cascade Conference and North Sound Conference days.
Class 2A state power Archbishop Murphy and 1A state power King’s dominated girls basketball in the Cascade Conference, with one of them winning at least a share of the league title every season for at least a decade until the conference disbanded in 2018. And then, after Archbishop Murphy moved to Wesco and most of the other Cascade Conference schools stayed together to form the North Sound Conference, King’s cruised to two more league titles in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
As a result, contending for a girls basketball league title in the Cascade and North Sound conferences simply wasn’t very realistic for Sultan in recent years — or for Granite Falls and South Whidbey, two of the Turks’ longtime league rivals. Prior to this season, it’d been a decade since any of those three teams finished better than fourth place in their league.
But it’s a new dynamic in the competitively balanced Emerald Sound Conference, which consists primarily of teams from the old North Sound Conference and Emerald City League. For girls basketball this season, perennial power King’s was in the Emerald Sound’s upper Chinook Division. The lower Coho Division consisted of Sultan, Granite Falls, South Whidbey, Bear Creek, Northwest, Summit Sierra and Eastside Prep.
The Coho Division was particularly well-matched. The division’s top four teams — Sultan, Bear Creek, Granite Falls and South Whidbey — all finished within one game of each other in the standings.
“You went in knowing every game you had the opportunity to win and be competitive,” Weideman said. “And that really changes the mindset of the players, knowing that they can go out there and compete. … They’re not defeated before they go out there.”
Girls basketball wasn’t the only Sultan team to experience breakthrough success in the Emerald Sound Conference’s tiered system.
The Turks’ boys soccer team won the Coho Division title and finished 9-2, which marked the program’s first winning season in at least a decade. And Sultan’s boys basketball team took second place in the Coho Division with a 7-3 record, which marked its first winning season since 2014-15.
“It’s been really fun, because for a lot of sports (at Sultan), we don’t win a lot,” said Trichler, who is the daughter of Sultan boys basketball coach Nate Trichler. “And so it’s been really fun to go to school knowing that we’re winning.”
For Sultan girls basketball, the hope is this season serves as a building block for future success.
“I think it’s going to keep going,” Trichler said. “We have a really solid eighth grade group coming up. And now that they’re getting to see how it feels to win, I think they’re going to push harder to win also.”