By Tom Rohrer
Come playoff time, sleep is hard to find for school basketball coaches.
The gauntlet of elimination and seeding match-ups in league and district tournaments can turn late nights into early mornings.
“You don’t eat, you don’t sleep and it’s because all you’re thinking about is giving your team any advantage,” said Black Hills girls basketball coach Tanya Greenfield. “It’s exhausting, but when you win, it’s exciting. Then that keeps you up. It’s just this combination of stress and excitement going through your body at all times.”
Playing three straight loser-out games in the 2A District IV Tournament, Greenfield’s lady Wolves defeated River Ridge 72-65 at Capital High School last Saturday to earn a bid in the regional round of the 16 team state tournament.
The Black Hills girls are joined by a pair of Lacey boys’ teams in the conquest for a state title, as River Ridge and Timberline are also slotted to play in the 2A and 3A regional rounds respectively this weekend.
Timberline, who finished fourth in the 3A District III tournament following back-to-back losses to Lincoln and Foss last weekend, will take on Eastside Catholic Friday night at Bellevue College beginning at 6 p.m. The Hawks came away with a 74-62 over Tumwater in a winner to state, loser out game last weekend at Capital High School, and will travel to Puyallup High on Saturday to take on White River at 8 p.m.
Black Hills also plays in Puyallup Saturday and will take on the White River girls basketball team at 6 p.m.
A victory in the regional round secures a spot in the eight-team, state tournament bracket of their respective.
With a victory, River Ridge and Black Hills would travel to the Yakima Sun Dome next weekend for the 2A boys and girls tournaments while Timberline’s journey points to the Tacoma Dome for the 3A slate.
Timberline earned a bid in the Hardwood Classic last spring by defeating Mercer Island 56-55 before dropping their two match-ups against Franklin and Seattle Prep in the Tacoma Dome.
Greenfield’s Wolves failed to make it out of district a season ago while River Ridge fell in the regional round to Renton 73-57, a victory short of a trip to Yakima.
Now in the same position a year later, River Ridge head coach John Barbee is hoping his young team can rise to the occasion.
“We have nine new varsity players this year,” said Barbee, who lost 2013 League MVP the Year Brad Wallace to graduation last June. “We’ve developed a lot to get to this point. We’re lacking in experience, but these kids are tough and playing hard. We’ll be ready for sure.”
Led by Washington commit and Narrows League 3A MVP Donaven Dorsey, Timberline had high expectations heading into the 2013-14 season. Dealing with injuries and the competitive Narrows League slate, Timberline has piled up 11 losses on the season, equaling their entire total from 2012.
However, much like last season, Timberline has gotten hot at the right time. Following the return of Dorsey from a midseason ankle injury, Timberline has returned to playing high intensity defense and received contributions offensively from junior point guard Brandell Evans and sophomore forward Jarryn Bush.
“We’re playing our best basketball of the season and that’s what you hope for as a coach,” said Timberline second year head coach Allen Thomas. “We definitely have things to work on, but our will to win and overcome adversity has gotten us here.”
Dorsey’s impact at Timberline is mirrored by the play of Black Hills senior forward Sarah McGee, a Division I player bound for Southern Utah University next season. Relying on players the caliber of McGee and Dorsey is a luxury within the charged atmosphere of the playoffs.
“(Dorsey) goes into every game with the mindset that he’s going to do whatever it takes to win. He can do so many things on the court other than score, so we rely on him in a variety of areas,” said Thomas.
“I ask her to do a lot because I know she can,” said Greenfield of McGee. “That’s what you expect out of your D-I player, to do whatever the team needs. She’s done that all season.”
The further a team advances in the playoffs, the more challenging the opponents become. Facing a highly regarded team can be daunting for a young team like River Ridge, requiring Barbee to instill confidence necessary for a victory.
“We made the mistake of intimidating ourselves against Mark Morris (who defeated River Ridge 68-49 in a district playoff game). We said all week, ‘they’re really good, they won’t make mistakes’ and we psyched our guys out,” said Barbee. “Just by being in the position we‘re in now, the guys know they’re one of the best 16 teams in the state. So we’re a little more comfortable now and I don’t think we’re intimidated heading into this contest.”
Though the three teams have had a week to prepare for their respective opponents, it’s difficult to change the makeup of a team this late in the season. For upperclassman-laden teams like Timberline and Black Hills, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“We’re at the point where our guys are what they are,” said Thomas, who played for Barbee at The Evergreen State College. “Nothing that (Eastside Catholic) will do will surprise us and vice versa. These games come down to who wants it the most.”
“Our girls have been together a while. For our seniors, they’ve been on the same team since third grade,” said Greenfield. “So familiarity wise, our girls trust each other and can play as a group. In these high pressure games, you need to fall back on that experience.”
All three coaches had the same comments regarding their opponents, and cited great coaching, fundamental play and strong shooting as characteristics of the two White River squads and Eastside Catholic. Advancing on from this weekend’s round will require the best performance of the season and the coaches have inspirational tactics to put their team in the right frame of mind.
“I’ve been telling the girls to visualize positive outcomes from the game,” noted Greenfield.
“I want the guys to be excited playing in a game like this. State playoff games, that’s why we play and coach basketball. So having fun and being excited, that’s key to a great performance,” Barbee added.
“Effort wise, I’ve been pleased with the team the last month or so and strong effort can win a game even if shots aren’t falling or the calls aren’t going your way,” said Thomas. “I tell my guys if we play with effort, we have a chance to win any game.”
Though the future remains unclear for the three Thurston County basketball teams, there still is a chance for a state championship. At this point of the season, that’s all a team can ask for.