Hawks ready to meet high expectations

  • David Pan<br>Enterprise sports editor
  • Friday, February 29, 2008 10:51am

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — Expectations are running high for the Mountlake Terrace boys basketball team.

And for good reason.

Coming off back-to-back appearances at the Class 4A state tournament, the Hawks return almost all of their key players from last year’s squad.

Seniors Mike Boxley, Leigh Swanson, Luke Hammond all started last year along with Andrew Mundt, who started part time. The four figure to give the Hawks a leg up on most of the competition in the Western Conference South Division, at least according to most coaches.

When asked to pick a favorite in the Western Conference South Division, the team at the top of everyone’s list is Mountlake Terrace.

The Hawks aren’t running away from the praise. Boxley appreciates the fact that Mountlake Terrace is highly regarded by its opponents.

“It’s always nice to have some high expectations for yourself when you’re going into the season,” he said. “You don’t want to go in planning on losing games. When you’ve got people talking about you and talking about how you’re one of the top teams that means other teams going to be out there gunning for you.

“You’ve got to come ready to play every night … we’ve got targets on our back. That means we’ve got to step it up even more. The more they talk, the harder we’ve got to play.”

Mountlake Terrace coach Nalin Sood doesn’t put much stock into preseason prognostications. He noted that the preseason league favorites the last two years ended up finishing somewhere else besides at the top of the division.

The Hawks placed second last year behind league champion Meadowdale, but the buzz about Mountlake Terrace was far less pronounced than it is this season.

Sood is interested to see how the Hawks handle the spotlight.

“Last year there was no pressure on us,” Sood said. “We were a bunch of young guys that could just go out there and play and have some fun and see what happens. Now this year there’s a little bit of a target on our backs. We’re going to see how we handle that top down from our seniors.”

Sood noted that the only reason Mountlake Terrace is being mentioned by everyone is because it is the team that has the most returning players who experienced some success.

“Who knows how other teams’ kids are going to mature and get better like our guys did last year,” Sood said.

For Hammond, who was the team’s leading scorer at 11.9 points per game, the key to success is not overlooking any team.

“I don’t know what up and comers everybody has,” Hammond said. “I’ve got to respect all our opponents equally.”

Mountlake Terrace lost some offensive production when Luke’s cousin Justlynn Hammond moved to California. Justlynn Hammond averaged 10.1 points per game.

Sood isn’t too concerned about the loss given the experience the Hawks have coming back.

Mountlake Terrace’s strength lies in its core group of seniors, who started together as freshmen and went 20-0 in their debut season.

Much of the communication between those seniors is unspoken and the result of years of practice and games.

“When you play with somebody for that long you definitely are in synch,” Boxley said. “You are on the same page. You know how another person plays, how another person likes to be passed to, what they need to be motivated, how they don’t like to be motivated and what they don’t want you to say to them.

“You figure those things out within the four years.”

Many times all Hammond has to do is look into his teammates’ eyes and he knows what they are thinking.

“It’s nice knowing. Instead of having to communicate backdoor to Mike I can look at him and I just know,” Hammond said. “We have good chemistry since we’ve been together for so long. That will help us out a lot.”

A newcomer who has impressed players and coaches alike is junior transfer Brad Balch. Though this is Balch’s first season with the Hawks, he’s fit in right away and his teammates and new coach expect he will make an impact this season.

Because of Mountlake Terrace’s athleticism and speed, Hammond expects a lot of teams will play a zone defense.

“They started doing that last year to make us shoot and he (Balch) fits in perfectly,” Hammond said. “He’s a zone buster. You let him get his feet set, it’s a bucket. He’s a pure shooter. He’ll help a lot … He fits in perfectly.”

The Hawks went two-and-out in both state appearances and getting back down to the Tacoma Dome and having an extended run is important to the players.

Boxley described the feeling after the losses as an emptiness, but also as something that motivates him.

“It just makes you want it ever more,” Boxley said. “After going down there the first time I wanted it. I couldn’t even explain how much I wanted it. Now I want it even more.

“It makes you want to work that much harder to get back there and improve.”

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