Battle-tested Warriors ready to fight for 4A girls basketball crown

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E-W Coach Duane Hodges, left, looks on as Madeline Kasper fights for a ball against Auburn-Riverside last week. (Photo by Char Blankenship)

At noon Thursday, the Edmonds-Woodway High School girls basketball team will board a bus and head south on Interstate 5 to Tacoma in a quest to complete some unfinished business: Winning a state 4A girls basketball championship.

Last year, a young E-W team with no seniors and a new coach became the first Lady Warriors basketball team to go to state in 17 years. The Warriors lost their first-round game to eventual 2010 state champion Auburn-Riverside, but bounced back and won three straight to take fifth place in the tournament.

Last week, E-W already settled one score in a rematch with Auburn-Riverside, soundly defeating the defending champions 52-34 in an early round state playoff game. Amazingly, that victory was one of six in a row that the tenacious Warriors racked up during two weeks of consolation bracket play — after losing their first District 1 game by one point to Marysville-Pilchuck — to earn a trip to the final eight in the Tacoma Dome.

We had a chance to talk with Head Coach Duane Hodges on Wednesday about the Warriors’ schedule on Thursday, their first-round opponent Lewis & Clark of Spokane, and how the team has been preparing for the next three days of intense competition against the best 4A girls basketball programs in the state. (See tournament bracket here.)

Q: What is your plan for Thursday?

A: We’re going to roll out of here about noon and head down to a practice gym. We’re going to continue to refine our execution on some sets by looking at several walk-through. Then we’ll head over to the hotel and rest, get food and rest some more — then we’ll head over to the Dome.

Q: How have you been preparing this week?

A: We’ve put a huge emphasis on shooting,  I’m reminded of the old adage that if a player doesn’t shoot for a day, they know it, and if they miss two days of shooting, then the coaches know it, and if they miss a third day the whole world knows it … so we’re going to keep shooting and focus on staying loose. Earlier this week, we also scrimmaged against the boys and that helped us a bunch.  It gave us the challenge to play up against some speed and some length, and the boys did that for us very nicely.

Q: What do you know about Lewis & Clark?
A: They are a perennial power team in girls basketball. Right now they have exceptional size in their front line at 6’3″, 6’1″, 6″0′ starters.  Then they have a guard (Devyn Galland), their high scorer with 19 points/game. Just like Saturday vs. Kentwood, we’re anticipating another very physical game.  They have bigs, we have bigs and the referees are notorious for letting them play, just the way it should be at a state tournament.  This Lewis & Clark team will have a few inches on us for sure, so they definitely have us on size. But our size has speed too and we’re going to make that an issue. We’re going make them move, they will have to move their feet defensively.

Q: Talk about the road you took to get to state and where the team is now mentally?
A: We definitely took the scenic route by losing that early game to Marysville-Pilchuck. We had to play and win six straight to get here. It was tough on our girls, but looking back it’s hard for me to say that I’d want it any other way. Mentally we are in a really great place right now; we have this confidence in ourselves that we belong and we know we belong here. Going into this state tournament this weekend, we’ve learned several times over that we can play under pressure and quite frankly, that’s going to help us. We also learned that we do best when we stay loose and are well prepared. So that’s where we’re at mentally, we’re going to stay loose and continue to prepare.

This team is ready to play and the seniors know what the Tacoma Dome looks like. You know, the first time you walk out onto a floor like that, it can be overwhelming, but the these players have been there and they know what it looks like to be on that floor. I’m sure that the butterflies will be there and they should be, but because they have the experience of last year, then on top of that add this season, the butterflies won’t last long before just pure desire kicks in.

Q: Assuming a win on Thursday, what can you expect from your second-round opponent, either Woodinville or Bellarmine Prep?
A: Woodinville has gone completely unnoticed this year and I’ve been shocked by that — the newspapers have ignore them.  They have been unnoticed by everybody but me because I knew that if we got to state, we’d see Woodinville there. They have a great starting group and (Ali) Ford is just a fabulous athlete — one of the top athletes in the state. Bellarmine Prep — they are very well coached and they might have the best 1-2 combination in the state with (Sarah) Hartwell and (Simonne) Potts.

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