After just a year at the helm of the Edmonds-Woodway High School girls basketball team, Coach Duane Hodges has already reached one of his goals: increasing the visibility of the Lady Warriors both in the community and statewide.
Last season, a young Edmonds-Woodway team with no seniors went 25-3 overall, finishing fifth at the state 4A basketball tournament. This year, the Warriors – who open preseason play at home Tuesday in a non-league contest against Shorecrest – have some new faces on the roster, including two freshmen: 5-5 guard Maddy Nealey and 6-footer Sid Eck.
Nealey “has real good court sense and is a pretty smart competitor,” Hodges said, while Eck is “just a good, big athlete.” Also new to the varsity squad is 6-1 sophomore Seyi Olajoyegbe, a rebounder and shot blocker “who hasn’t played the game that long but is a quick learner,” he added.
The new players add more depth and height to an already talented team of returners that include seniors Sydney Donaldson, Ashley Albertson, Angela Woods, Alex Kenney and Amia Nash, plus juniors Falanika Tuuamalemalo and Awa and Adama Marenah.
Hodges predicts that the Warriors will be competitive in Wesco South, and expects the stiffest challenge from 4A foe Jackson High School. In addition to some strong returning players, the Timberwolves have the latest in a line of famous basketball-playing siblings – Kelli Kingma, the freshman younger sister of Jackson alum Kristi (now playing for the University of Washington) and Brett, a Jackson senior who has committed to the University of Oregon next year. Edmonds-Woodway plays Jackson at home on Dec. 8.
Hodges said his players are also looking forward to the annual “Rubber Chicken” non-league games for both girls and boys teams against 3A cross-town rival Meadowdale Dec. 11, so named because the varsity games feature a rubber chicken slingshot contest at halftime. “So many of the girls are friends with girls on the Meadowdale team, that it’s a friendly rivalry,” he noted.
Rubber chickens aside, the rest of the season is serious business for the Warriors. Next weekend, the team will travel to the Portland area for the Nike Northwest Invitational, competing against a field that includes Oregon 6A defending champion Southridge, Idaho 5A champion Couer d’Alene and defending Washington 4A champs Auburn-Riverside. On Dec. 13, Edmonds-Woodway is hosting the internationally known club team Melbourne Tigers from Australia (the team that Seattle Storm star Lauren Jackson played on in her youth) and on Dec. 18, E-W will meet 11-time state of Oregon champion Oregon City at the Seattle Storm Shootout at Pierce College.
Playing in such high-caliber regional tournaments and against seasoned opponents is not something past Lady Warrior programs have focused on, but it’s all part of a master plan by Hodges, a former Central Washington University player who came to Edmonds-Woodway after coaching at Shoreline Christian, Snohomish County Christian, Kings and Juanita high schools.
“Sometimes you have to stick your neck out and take a chance and see if you can hang with the competitive programs,” he said.
Hodges credits his quick success in part to the roster of existing talent that had been nurtured by now-retired Warrior head coach Wayne Edwards. “I inherited players that were really committed to being good,” he said. “A lot of the hard work had been done before I got there. I knew two things: I shouldn’t overcoach them offensively and they had to get better defensively – and that was my goal last year. We had no trouble scoring points for the most part, but we really had to figure out how to stop people.”
And it’s clear that the Warriors did figure it out, with just three losses for the entire 2009-10 season and the history-making appearance at the state tournament – the first E-W girls basketball team to go to state in 17 years.
Hodges’ mission goes beyond producing a winning girls basketball team. He is also committed to building a successful girls program in Edmonds from the ground up, and this year established a local feeder team system of sixth- through eighth-grade girls.
Finishing fifth at state last year “created a lot of interest in our program,” he said. “It’s just a positive vibe, and it also adds to the excitement. Little girls read that and they want to be big Warriors.”
In addition, he credits the leadership of his five seniors, who have “done a really good job of working with the younger girls. They are good role models.”
“Being at Edmonds-Woodway has been a great experience,” Hodges added. “I think that we have put the girls basketball program on the map now in the state of Washington, and that’s what I wanted to do.”
Note: The Lady Warrior basketball program is sponsoring a Holiday Hoopfest basketball tournament Dec. 28-30 for 6th-8th grade girls, with all games in the Edmonds-Woodway High School gym. Early registration deadline is Dec. 13. For more information, visit the tournament website.