North Thurston High School Girls Basketball Eyeing State for First Time in Three Decades

Senior Laney Borchardt lines up a 3-pointer against Central Kitsap. Photo credit: Grant Clark

It’s been nearly 30 years since the North Thurston girls basketball team advanced to the state basketball tournament. But there’s been plenty of chatter in Lacey lately about that drought coming to an end this season, talk that has gained serious momentum with each victory the Rams register.

“It’s been fun,” said head coach Jackie Meyer about the team’s 7-0 start to the season. “Just getting on that winning streak early on really helped with our confidence. Obviously, when you’re winning it’s a lot easier to get everyone to buy in, but this team has just been an amazing group of girls, just cheering each other on. It’s a really cool vibe. I’ve been coaching in the building for a long time now and this has been a lot of fun for me.”

Behind an extremely opportunistic defense, the play of two sensational seniors in Tayonnah Birdtail and Laney Borchardt, and several new faces in the program, led by a freshman phenomenon Soraya Ogaldez, North Thurston is having one of its best seasons in program history.

The Rams last made it to state in 1994, placing eighth at the 4A tournament.

North Thurston freshman Soraya Ogaldez steps up to the free throw line during the Rams’ home game against Central Kitsap. Photo credit: Grant Clark

Like that squad 28 years ago, this year’s team opened the season with a seven-game winning streak and won 13 out of its first 14 games. The 1994 North Thurston team finished the regular season 19-1 before making its deep playoff push.

However, unlike that team, which was coming off back-to-back state appearances and returned much of its roster that placed at state the previous season, this Rams’ team entered this year on the heels of some less-than-spectacular seasons, finishing 4-8 last year and 4-16 in 2020.

But it more than appears those years are now in the rearview mirror.

“Starting my first two years it was tough,” Borchardt said. “I didn’t feel as close with this team. This year there’s a lot more chemistry between all of us. And I know for a fact when I’m not playing the best myself everyone else is going to be there to pick me up. It makes things a lot easier. It’s a good feeling.”

And a feeling that has drastically altered the players’ expectations and goals for the year.

For a second straight season Tayonnah Birdtail leads North Thurston in scoring and rebounding, averaging nearly 16 points and 8 rebounds a game. Photo credit: Grant Clark

“This season just means everything to me because I’ve put so much into basketball and it would mean the world to me if we won state,” Birdtail said. “That’s the goal. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing, working hard, trusting each other and coming together as a team.”

North Thurston currently sits ninth among 3A teams in the WIAA RPI rankings with the Rams’ only setback this year coming against No. 6 Gig Harbor.

“Knowing what we know about us as a team and going through all the games we’ve played it’s changed the mentality of this team,” Borchardt said. “We all have the same goal and the same vision, and we all want to work hard towards that goal. We’re very excited for that.”

You can credit the team-wide approach to playing hard-nosed defense for much of the squad’s success.

Remarkably, the Rams average nearly 19 steals a game as a team, with eight players averaging at least a steal per contest. Ogaldez paces the team with 5.2 steals per game, an accomplishment made even more impressive considering she’s only a handful of games into her high school career. She is followed by Birdtail (3.4 steals per game), Borchardt (3.3), freshman Grace Lee (2.3) and junior Jordyn Harn (2.1).

Birdtail has scored 20 or more points five times during her senior season. Photo credit: Grant Clark

It’s been one dominating defensive performance after the next for the Rams as the team had 32 steals against Shelton, 26 steals against Central Kitsap and 21 against both Capital and Centralia.

“Our defense is definitely what gets us going with our fast break layups,” Birdtail said. “It all starts up top. It’s hard to get by Soraya, and Laney and that trap, it just makes our defense go. Defense definitely wins games for us.”

Birdtail, who scored a career-high 40 points last year against River Ridge, leads the team in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 15.9 points and eight boards a game. But unlike last season, where she averaged 18.4 points a game, she hasn’t been required to do all the heavy lifting on offense this year as she combines with Borchardt and Ogaldez to form one of the classification’s top scoring trios in the state.

“I feel when I’m off, Laney and Soraya are there to pick things up,” said Birdtail. “We have that trust in each other. The chemistry between the three of us is there. It’s amazing how fast it developed.”

Ogaldez, who averages a team-best 3.3 assists per game, scores 15.2 points a game, while Borchardt chips in 12 points an outing.

Ogaldez and the Rams opened the season on a seven-game winning streak and won 13 out of their first 14 games to match the 1994 team for the best start in program history. Photo credit: Grant Clark

“Every game has just been a great experience. I’m glad I have Tay and Laney and the other seniors leading me,” said Ogaldez. “They’ve showed me the ropes and guided me.”

All three have notched several big offensive nights. Birdtail opened her final season by filling up the stat sheet to the tune of 23 points, 11 rebounds and six steals in the Rams’ win over Steilacoom. It was the first five 20-point games for her this season.

Ogaldez put up a career-high 28 points in the team’s 46-40 win over Peninsula before going for 25 points, 10 steals, eight rebounds and six assists in a victory over Central Kitsap, while Borchardt scored 26 points against Centralia.

“It just feels nice to be playing a normal basketball season and have a postseason again this year,” said Meyer, who also guided the Rams’ volleyball team to the 3A state tournament this year. “The players now see that’s within their grasp and that goals there and it’s pretty exciting.”

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