Prep girls basketball preview: With first games next week, Mavs return solid core of players

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2016-17 Season: 2-9 in 2A/3A Wesco League 4-15 overall

Head Coach: Caitlyn Houvener

Key Losses: Selina Tekle, Grace Wilson

Key Returners: Adriana Valadez, Lilly Williams

Last season, the Lady Mavericks basketball team was young. Among the nine players on the varsity roster, there were five sophomores and one freshman. While that undoubtedly contributed to some degree to the struggles the team faced, those young players were forged in the fires of varsity basketball in the 2A/3A Wesco conference, facing teams like last year’s state qualifiers Snohomish, Stanwood and Lynnwood, as well as perennial conference powerhouses like Arlington and Edmonds-Woodway.

Those same players, paired with a couple of transfers, are providing Mavericks head coach Caitlyn Houvener with a solid core that should be more competitive this season.

The Mavs graduated just two players from a year ago — standout guard Selina Tekle and post player Grace Wilson. Coach Houvener is optimistic about her roster and the experience gained by young players during the past two seasons, believing it will bear some fruit on the court this year.

“I mean, when the younger girls can get those critical playing time minutes at the high school level, it’s just going to make them a better player,” she said. “We’ve been pretty young the past couple years, and we’re young again this year. I have five solid juniors who are great at leading, and I think they are going to provide a lot of upper classmen leadership, but the rest are sophomores and freshmen.

“I’ve been impressed with their hustle and their grit so far,”  Houvener added. “They’re working super hard. Some of our key returners, (junior) Adriana Valadez, who has been on varsity since her freshman year. Captain last year. I’m expecting big things from her. Lilly Williams, sophomore, who was on varsity last year. Great shooter and a great leader, so I’m expecting her to have a big sophomore season.”

Added to that core of juniors, Houvener highlighted the addition of two sophomore transfers who should contribute to the team as well. “The transfers were a pleasant surprise,” she said. “Point guards, Soriah (Swinton) from Edmonds-Woodway. We’re thrilled that she came over to the Lady Mavs side, and then another transfer (Tyra Gallagher) from the Spokane area (Central Valley) that I’ve been impressed with.”

Added sophomore guard Lilly Williams: “We have a lot of new talent this year, so I’m excited to see where it can take us. Hopefully a lot farther than last year.”

One of the weaknesses of last year’s team was the lack of size under the basket. That’s not necessarily the case this season. “We’ve got some size inside this year,” Houvener said. Last year Grace Wilson served as the Mavs’ post, but this season Meadowdale has freshman Fatoumata Jaiteh, junior Cassidy Gamble and sophomore Maia Austvold — an inside presence that “I’m really excited about,” Houvener said with a grin.

“There’s just a lot of team energy and a lot of team chemistry so far,” said guard Adriana Valadez. “I’m excited to see how that translates onto the court, and I think that we’re not going to be so one sided, just relying on outside shooters, we have some really good posts, so  I think we’ll be able to be a really diverse team.”

Coach Houvener will have a roster of 12, up from last year’s nine. “Part of that was they earned it, and part of that was I want them to work hard and earn playing time,” she said. “With keeping 12, they have to compete in practice every day, and I want to run and press more than I have in the past, so having those extra bodies will help.

“If they get in for two minutes and go hard, that might be all they get that game, but that’s going to be two minutes to give the starters a rest and keep our tempo up. It’ll be fun,” she added.

“We’re going to be a lot more defensive minded, hopefully turn teams over a little bit more and get some easy buckets that we haven’t gotten in the past,” Houvener said.

The Lady Mavericks’ 2017-18 season gets underway with back-to-back games in The Stable at Meadowdale High School. On Tuesday, Nov. 28, they will host the Everett Seagulls, followed by the Mariner Marauders Wednesday night, Nov. 29.  Both games start at 7:15 p.m.

— Story and photos by Scott Williams

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