By Tom Rohrer
W.F. West High School finished second in the state last year and have their top returning players clicking again in 2013. River Ridge, who finished fourth in the 2013 state tournament, have standout guard Jazzlynn Brewster and a host of other contributors back to lead the way.
Joining the local contenders are the Black Hills High School Wolves, who have their own star and coach to lead a charge towards a state berth.
Under head coach Tanya Greenfield, Black Hills stands atop the Evergreen League standings following a 7-1 start and a 3-0 record in league contests.
Black Hills earned their biggest regular season win in years on Friday night, as they defeated River Ridge 62-61 on a buzzer beating shot by senior guard Taylor Sauls.
It was the first victory over the Hawks by the BHHS senior players, and will go a long way towards playoff seeding come February.
Heading into the contest, Greenfield knew how important of a game it was for her team.
“It’s a huge game for us because our seniors have never beaten them,” Greenfield said. “This is a chance for them to overcome a mental block of sorts.”
The win over River Ridge is not surprising, given that Black Hills has the luxury of having both an experienced roster and a coach who has playoff experience as a player and a coach.
BHHS has the luxury of having both an experienced roster and a coach who has playoff experience as a player and a coach.
An assistant coach for two years at Black Hills prior to her current head coaching run, Greenfield was a prolific all-around player for Sehome High School before playing collegiately.
Greenfield was named Whatcom County Athlete of the Year as a senior at Sehome and would go on to play at Wenatchee Community College and Saint Martin’s University. Sehome played in the State Championship game during her senior season.
In 2010, Greenfield’s first season as an assistant coach at Black Hills, Sarah McGee was a freshmen starter for a Wolves team that finished 4 – 17.
Three years later, McGee, a 5’11″ guard, is a returning First Team All-Evergreen League player and a future Division I athlete.
The time on the floor she saw as an underclassman gave McGee the experience that has shaped her success, both as a player and a leader.
“She came in as a freshmen at age 13 when most girls her grade are usually 14,” said Greenfield, who was head coach at Chelan High School for four years. “But you wouldn’t know that. She was just able to come in and play the game and contribute. She wasn’t necessarily the best scorer, rebounder or passer, but she could do everything well. Once she developed her confidence, we’ve seen her improve in every facet of the game.”
“As a freshmen playing against a bunch of juniors and seniors, I saw what worked in terms of how to communicate with the team,” said McGee. “I remember what I would respond to and what I could handle as an underclassman. I can relate to what those younger girls are going through now and I want to help them develop.”
Every year since McGee’s freshmen season, the Wolves have improved their record from the previous campaign.
The team’s success, including a 15-8 record and a district playoff appearance in 2012-13, coupled with her statistical improvements put McGee on the radar of college recruiters.
For her strong play, McGee garnered a scholarship offer from Southern Utah University in Cedar City, UT, a Division I program playing in the Big Sky Conference.
McGee committed to the college, a decision that she made following her visit to the school and a discussion with her coach.
“I was certain that I wanted to go there. The scary part was that it was actually happening,” said McGee. “You talk about getting recruited and spend all your time talking about playing (in college). When the time finally comes it can be shocking.”
“She liked the visit, she liked the school, so I said ‘you go for it, girl’,” Greenfield says. “She wanted to get the decision out of the way to focus on the season, and I thought that could only help us. She’s done so much for the program that we wouldn’t have minded if she had delayed her choice. The fact she cared so much about the team says it all.”
On the court, McGee is far from the only contributor for Black Hills.
Twins Sydney and Taylor Sauls join McGee as senior leaders and playmakers for the Wolves and only Hope Mortensen, who now plays volleyball for Saint Martin’s University, is gone from last season’s team.
This experience as a team is a big reason McGee and Greenfield believe the Wolves can qualify for the state tournament in March.
“Our team has spent a lot of time together and during the fall season, we spent more time playing with each other than years past,” said McGee. “Actually, four of five seniors and two of five juniors have been playing together since the second grade.”
“One of my advantage is that I can go eight-to-ten players deep,” said Greenfield, who led Chelan High School to the state tournament every year as the school’s head coach. “So many girls can play because they are talented enough and they have bought into the team-first philosophy. They don’t care who scores the points. They care about winning.”
“We didn’t know how to win and we’ve changed that since freshmen year,” says McGee.
As a senior captain, it’s a necessity for McGee to set an example for the rest of her teammates. Her dedication off the court has been nearly as important as her impact as a teammate on it.
“She’s an incredible leader by example and has all the qualities you look for in that regard,” said Greenfield of McGee. “She does that effortlessly. And it’s not just most of the time. She sets the example at every practice and in every drill.”
Playing under Greenfield has helped in McGee’s development as a student athlete.
“My social life is basketball, so that’s how it’s balanced – school, family at home and my team,” said McGee, the ASB Vice President at Black Hills. “I learned that in part from coach. I know she had a prolific career and that hits home with me and the team. We respect where she is coming from and we know that whatever she does will help us.”
Will Black Hills combination of talent, leadership and coaching lead to a state tournament appearance? McGee and Greenfield believe the blue-print is laid out in front of the Wolves.
“I got used to going to the tournament at Chelan, so it’s been hard for me not getting there in the spring,” said Greenfield. “The girls know what they need to do and have the talent to do it. I think that’s all you can ask for at this point in the season.”
“We just need to be mentally tough every game,” said McGee. “We certainly have the skills and athleticism to do it. It’s up to us to put it all together.”