There’s no doubt that the Lake Stevens High School girls basketball team had high expectations entering this season.
How could they not?
The Vikings’ roster features a core group of four seniors — forwards Camille Jentzsch and Cori Wilcox, and guards Baylor Thomas and Chloe Pattison — that have played integral roles for the team since they first entered the program. Three have signed with NCAA Division I or II programs. And the talented quartet has already combined for eight all-league selections with each earning the honor twice.
But the one thing lacking from the group’s impressive resume is a trip to the Tacoma Dome for the Hardwood Classic.
“The (Tacoma) Dome is our main goal,” Wilcox said. “… That’s what we’re working towards. You can see that in practice and you can see that in our games. … It’s just a family working towards one goal.”
So far this season, Lake Stevens appears to be well on its way to achieving that goal.
The Class 4A No. 7 Vikings are off to a scorching 14-2 start. They’ve breezed through Wesco 4A play with a 5-0 record while outscoring opponents by an average of 27.2 points per game. Their 63.6 points per game leads all girls teams in Snohomish County.
Lake Stevens has also shown it can compete with the state’s best along the way, knocking off 4A sixth-ranked Tahoma by nine points earlier this month and hanging with 4A fourth-ranked Emerald Ridge in a six-point December loss.
The Tahoma victory was a particularly validating moment for the Vikings.
They started the game red-hot and built a 44-28 lead in the first half while shooting 52.9% (18 of 34) from the field and holding the high-scoring Bears to just 31.4% (11 of 35) shooting.
But then Tahoma walked Lake Stevens down and made it a 52-51 early in the fourth quarter. The Vikings regathered and leaned on the 6-foot-4 Jentzsch, who scored eight points in the final five minutes.
The end result was a marquee victory that proved this core senior group was ready to take the next step after falling one win shy of a trip to the Tacoma Dome in a state regionals loss to Camas as sophomores in 2020.
“Winning that game, it felt great,” Jentzsch said. “We went into that game with a lot of confidence. We know our team has a lot of talent all over the board, but winning that was kind of just like, ‘Wow. We’re talented and we have a good shot at making it far this year.’”
One of the key factors for Lakes Stevens’ talented group is the balance it brings.
The presence of Jentzsch and the 6-2 Wilcox, who both have signed with Eastern Washington, provides size that most teams simply can’t match. Their towering figures deter guards from attacking the basket and help shut down opponents’ interior scoring threats. Both have also provided reliable scoring.
Jentzsch has averaged 12.9 points through 14 games played to go along with 9.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks for Lake Stevens. Wilcox has posted 9.4 points and 9.1 rebounds over 15 games played.
“You know what you’re going to get out of Cori. She’s going to rebound the ball and bring toughness. She’s going to provide a presence on the inside,” Lake Stevens coach Randy Edens said. “And Camille has complemented that as well with scoring. Those two are going to Eastern together and have been so good to one another. They know each other’s game because they’ve been playing together for so long. That’s just kind of been a fun thing to watch and see them grow and prosper.”
When teams are keying on Lake Stevens’ bigs, that just opens the door for Thomas and Pattison to attack on the perimeter and find open lanes to the basket. The pair has done that effectively with Thomas, a West Virginia State signee, averaging a team-high 15.1 points over 16 games played and Pattison adding 11.3 while playing in 12 games so far this season.
Edens highlighted Thomas’ ability to find the right balance of being a scorer and a facilitator this season.
“It’s been really good,” Edens said. “That’s important because she’s gotta make sure she keeps Chloe involved on the perimeter and make sure Cam(ille) and Cori get their touches on the inside and really just play to their strengths.”
Pattison’s presence is also felt greatly on the defensive end.
“She’s a crazy defender,” Thomas said. “She’s got the long arms and all of that. She’s a shooter also (and) does a good job of attacking the basket.”
Finding the right chemistry is also something the players lamented in their success.
Thomas said sharing the ball was big emphasis early in the season and Pattison said the team has found a new level of cohesiveness on the court that they lacked as sophomores.
“We just weren’t a team together and that really led to our downfall against Camas and other really good teams,” Pattison said of past years. “Us four have had many conversations off the court about how our goal is to win state and how what we need to win state is us working together as a team.”
Lake Stevens, like many other teams this season, has had to deal with some obstacles presented by COVID and injuries along the way. The Vikings haven’t had many opportunities to play games or practice as a full unit since early in the season and their schedule — which originally included midseason non-league tests against 3A third-ranked Arlington and Stanwood — has fluctuated greatly.
“I think our schedule has probably changed at least 10 times for a variety of different reasons,” Edens said.
Lake Stevens had to take on 3A seventh-ranked Snohomish three days after the Tahoma win without five varsity players — including Jentzsch and Wilcox — and suffered a 64-43 loss.
But the Vikings have been back to their winning ways since with three straight victories, and they can seal up a Wesco 4A title and an unbeaten conference record by closing out their league schedule with two more wins.
From there Lake Stevens hopes to be one of five teams to get through a tough Wes-King Bi-District Tournament that will feature fellow top-10 members Woodinville and Eastlake.
Plenty of tests still lie ahead on the path to Tacoma, but the Vikings feel they’re up to the challenge.
“We’re very motivated and we’re really excited for the opportunity that we have,” Jentzsch said. “… I think we definitely have a good shot.”