It’s a matter of good news, bad news for coach Zandrea Edenstrom and her Timberline Blazers.
First, the good news. Sasha Weber, Timberline’s all-time leading scorer, is back for her senior year after averaging 14.2 points last season. As for the bad news, Cymone Martin, Timberline’s all-league center with the knack for scoring and rebounding, is recovering from a torn ACL.
She might be able to play by the end of the season.
With Martin out, Timberline returns just two starters – Weber and guard Kiera Allen – off last year’s team that won 23 games and went a perfect 10-0 in the the 3A Narrows League. The Blazers will miss Martin’s 12.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
But Timberline, with a young, talented lineup, should still have enough to make a run at Wilson, Yelm and Capital for the playoffs and a league title. Edenstrom will be counting on youth.
“I have three freshmen that will be great off the bench players,” Edenstrom said. “Last year’s team left some big shoes to fill, but they are all up to the challenge.”
One of those freshman is Martin’s younger sister, Cierra Martin.
“She is showing the potential to be a great post player,” Edenstrom said.
Yelm, with three starters back who received all-league honors, could be a title contender. Anushka Maldonado, a 6-foot junior post and one of the league’s top players, returns after averaging 11.6 points and 9.5 rebounds last season as a sophomore. Maldonado earned first-team all-league.
Jaynani Cababat, a 5-foot-5 senior guard, is a scorer/playmaker who averaged 11.6 points and 2.5 assists. She was second-team all-league. Yelm’s third returning starter is Jessica Amundsen, a senior guard who averaged 3.5 assists and 4.5 steals, earning her all-league honorable mention.
“We are very athletic,” said Russ Riches, who is back for his 16th season as Yelm’s head coach. “We are a solid defensive team that will challenge our opponents to play their game to beat us.”
Riches will be counting on two players who started on last year’s junior varsity that finished 22-0 and won by an average of 39 points. McKenzie DeVore is a junior point guard with the knack for the pass. McKaiela Tyler, a sophomore wing, is a pure scorer.
Capital returns two starters off a team that finished 14-10 last season and came within one win at district of advancing to state. Kendel Wilkerson, a 5-10 senior guard, returns after averaging 11.2 points and 4.5 rebounds, earning her second-team all-league.
Hollianne Wieland, a 5-10 junior forward, is Capital’s other returning starter. She’s a tireless rebounder who can score, averaging 5.0 rebounds and 2.6 points.
Capital will be looking for players to carry the scoring load.
The Cougars graduated six seniors off last year’s team and lost a junior to club volleyball. That group had three of the team’s top four scorers last season, and the team’s playmaker at point guard and top rebounder.
“We are rebuilding this year, but I think we’ll surprise people at the end of the year,” said Colleen Wells, who is beginning her 11th season as the Cougars head coach.
Capital has just two players with significant varsity playing time.
“We are working on a totally new offensive scheme,” Wells said. “We’re going to look pretty raw to start out. As we get more comfortable with the offense, we’ll get better and we’re going to be hard for teams to defend, especially in the paint.”
“This is a young team with a lot of potential,” Edenstrom said. “Weber will bring her experience and her overall athleticism.”
Edenstrom will also be counting on Allen at shooting guard and Checka Borja at wing.
“Kiera and Checka will be great with their speed and shooting ability,” Edenstrom said. “Our weakness will be varsity experience and lack of size.”
At Olympia, Rod Tripp, in his second year as the Bears head coach, doesn’t have any returning starters, but he’s got some young and promising talent.
“I’ll probably end up starting two to three freshmen,” Tripp said.
One of those freshman, Jona Spiller, scored 22 points in her varsity debut in a 68-59 loss to North Thurston in a season opener. The Bears played without three projected starters who were out with injury.
Molly Spiller, a 5-foot-6 forward, showed some scoring power last year when she came off the bench to score 12 and 16 points in two games. But she sprained her ankle in an intrasquad game and missed the season opener.
“She’s a good little player,” Tripp said. “She can hit the open jump shot.”
Olympia led North Thurston 14-11 after the first quarter but trailed 31-29 at halftime and 45-39 after three quarters.
“Our youth showed,” Tripp said. “We made some mistakes. It’s part of our growing pains. But we’ll be all right. I really like the mental makeup of this team.”
Olympia’s chances of reaching the playoffs depend on how quickly it can adjust to the speed of varsity basketball. Tripp is both optimistic and uncertain about his team’s prospects.
“Just flip a coin,” he said. “It depends on who shows up.”
In the 2A Evergreen Conference, River Ridge, last year’s league champs, have a new coach in Jackie Robinson, a former all-conference forward at Evergreen State College. With four players back who started at times last season on a 24-3 team, Robinson has a mix of experienced and young talent.
Black Hills coach Robin Johnson has four starters back off a team that finished 4-16. At Tumwater, Dave Littleton, who begins his second season, has only one returning starter off a team that went 22-5.
“Those kids blessed me last season,” Littleton said.
Haley Vandenhazel, a 6-foot-1 senior post and Littleton’s only returning starter, is a shooter/rebounder with a knack for coming up with the big play. Vandenhazel averaged 8 points and 10 rebounds.
With just one returning starter, Littleton is filling the gaps with players up from last year’s junior varsity that finished 15-4. Littleton also convinced Gabby Johnson to turn out after missing last season with a rib injury.
“She’s a tremendous athlete,” Littleton said. “I call her skywalker.”
At a recent practice, Littleton had Johnson, the younger sister of twin brothers Zach and Matt Johnson, who played football for Eastern Washington University, try and touch the rim.
“She just missed,” Littleton said.
At River Ridge, Robinson, who was hired in August, is still in the introduction mode, getting to know his players and they getting to know his offensive and defensive schemes.
“We’re in a learning and feeling out stage,” Robinson said. “I believe we have to take it one game at a time and see what happens. I think we can be okay if we do that.”
Starters back for the Hawks are forward/guard Necy Wade, point guard Samira McDonald and guard Kyahri Adams. McDonald was an all-state guard her sophomore year then hurt her knee last year. Wade averaged 11.8 points and Adams averaged 8.8 last season.
“I’d say our strength is our ballhandling is good,” Robinson said. “They have a good basketball IQ. They’re picking it up.”
Johnson said Black Hills will have to rely on a score-by-committee offense and on a hustling, pressure defense. Depth is a luxury for Johnson and the Wolves.
“We return everybody,” the Black Hills coach said. “No one person is going to standout. One through 10, we’re pretty much the same.”
Johnson has been impressive with her team’s work ethic.
“I don’t think I’ve been part of a more committed basketball team,” Johnson said. “They work so hard.”
Littleton, Johnson and Robinson all agreed that their league is again going to be tough from top to bottom.
“You can’t take a night off,” Littleton said.
North Thurston, under first-year head coach Mike Hern, could be the surprise of the 2A Evergreen Conference. After finishing 7-15 last season, the Rams are off to a 2-0 start, beating Olympia (68-59) and Washington (58-36). Elyssa Quichocho, a 5-foot-6 senior guard, has led an uptempo offense, scoring 19 and 16 points in the first two wins.
“She’s a great athlete,” Hern said. “She does it all.”
Ciara Williams, a 5-5 guard, and Caite Mets, a 5-6 guard, have also been scoring in double figures. Williams scored 17 against Olympia. Mets has scored 13 and 10 points in the first two wins.
“If you can spread out the scoring, it’s hard to shut down an entire team,” Hern said. “They’re working well together.”
North Thurston won’t be the biggest team on the floor. But they might be the fastest.
“We’re not tall, but we’re athletic,” Hern said. “We can get up and down the floor real quick. We can play four guards and fly up and down the court.”