Bearcats hope to go higher

Towering trio in frontcourt has W.F. West aiming to improve on last season’s 2nd place at state

mwochnick@theolympian.comDecember 26, 2013 

W.F. West’s 6-foot-2 Julie Spencer, foreground, and Nike McClure, 6-3, hope to tower over opponents as they did Dec. 17 in a 43-23 victory over River Ridge. Along with 6-2 teammate Tiana Parker, the talented trio is “certainly unusual,” Bearcats coach Henri Weeks said. And after losing last season’s 2A state championship game, the team is “very motivated” this season, Spencer said.

PETER HALEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

It’s a frontcourt whose collective height would make most Pac-12 schools envious.

Juniors Julie Spencer and Tiana Parker — both 6-foot-2 — and senior Nike McClure, the tallest of the trio at 6-3, will occupy the paint for this season’s W.F. West girls basketball squad, comprising possibly the tallest starting frontcourt in the state.

“It’s certainly unusual,” Bearcats coach Henri Weeks said of his team’s size. “It’s highly unique for a 2A school. I can’t remember seeing anything like it in 24 years of coaching.”

A rarity for sure, but one thing that hasn’t changed with the program is the high expectations.

Fresh off last year’s Class 2A state runner-up performance, which capped perhaps the greatest season in W.F. West history, the Bearcats appear poised to capture consecutive 2A Evergreen Conference titles and make another deep title run behind the talents of their post play and a group of driven seniors.

“We’re very motivated,” Spencer said. “Last year was such a great experience playing in the title game. We still have a lot we need to do, and we will play it game to game. But we’ve set very high goals this season. State’s in the back of everyone’s mind. Isn’t that every team’s goal?”

It is, but few teams, regardless of classification, can boast W.F. West’s roster depth.

The frontcourt, of course, is the first thing that jumps out as there is no shortage of talent.

“When we step out on the court,

it just seems like we always have an advantage,” Spencer said about the team’s overall size compared with opponents. “It gives you a boost of confidence.”

McClure, who sat out last season after transferring from Tenino, already has signed to play next season at Washington State University, while Spencer recently received a scholarship offer from Eastern Washington. Tiana Parker is the younger sister of Jamika Parker, who was named The Olympian’s All-Area Player of the Year last season.

“They are all so tall and long, but the thing is they are all athletes,” coach Weeks said. “If teams want to run this year, we can run.”

Strong defense, an emphasis on rebounding and plenty of half-court offensive sets have been the Bearcats’ calling cards. That shouldn’t change. And it should prove difficult for any team to match up with the Bearcats’ size, versatility and depth.

“We always had that philosophy of slowing it down around here,” Spencer said. “We can still do that, but this year we can also play up-tempo. We have the best of both worlds.”

While the middle is taken care of by Spencer, McClure and Parker, the Bearcats will also benefit from an experienced group of seniors in Tori Weeks, Raegan Nelson, McKenzie Lofgren, Anna DeTray and Katie Hankins.

“We have an incredible group of seniors,” Spencer said. “If we need to do more in practice or during a game, there’s at least one or two seniors every time who will motivate us to pick it up.”

The majority of the seniors have been playing together since fourth grade.

“We’re like family here,” said guard Tori Weeks, daughter of the coach. “We’re like sisters. Of course, we get angry with each other at practice. We’re all competitive, but we immediately go back to being best friends.”

While a state championship is the ultimate goal, the Bearcats will have to navigate through the always difficult EvCo before they can even think about the postseason.

“There’s probably three teams in our league this year that could make the final eight at state,” coach Weeks said. “We’re just getting started this season. We have a lot of work to do.

“I still think we are a ways away from where we will be, but the girls here know they have an opportunity to have a very special season, and we’re excited about that.”

Girls basketball

4A Narrows League

Crystal ball (2012-13 records)

1. Bellarmine Prep (16-9)

2. Central Kitsap (14-8)

3. Yelm (20-5)

4. Olympia (11-9)

5. South Kitsap (8-12)

6. Gig Harbor (9-13)

7. Stadium (2-18)

Starting five

G Jasmyne Holmes, 5-6, sr., Bellarmine Prep Plan is for all-Narrows 4A point guard to handle ball at all times.

G Taylor Krouse, 5-6, jr., Central Kitsap Has knack for hitting dramatic shot; returns as Cougars’ top scorer.

G Jenna Randich, 5-7, so., Olympia Reliable defender and shooter is young group’s best all-around player.

G McKaiela Tyler, 5-7, sr., Yelm Last season, she came off the bench firing 3-pointers. Now, 32 minutes of it.

C Claire Martin, 6-5, jr., Bellarmine Prep As Lions shift to being interior team, this will be her breakout season.

Fastbreak: Last season, Yelm did what no 4A Narrows team had done since 2008: become a team not named Bellarmine Prep to win the league title. For the Tornados to do it again, they’ll rely on Tyler’s 3-point skills. … First-year Olympia coach Tina Washington is a rookie compared with veteran squad, boosted by an experienced backcourt of Randich, one of the top 3-point shooters around; Mackenzie Cooper; and Sarah Snodgrass. While the Bears have team speed, they lack size in the paint. Junior post Faith Cebula, who missed her freshman season with a torn ACL, is out with a knee injury. … Bellarmine’s size, led by Martin at 6-5, is always a threat.

3A Narrows League

Crystal ball (2012-13 records)

1. Wilson (23-3)

2. Timberline (10-11)

3. Lincoln (12-9)

4. North Thurston (9-10)

5. Mount Tahoma (9-12)

6. Shelton (1-19)

7. Foss (3-17)

Starting five

G Josie Matz, 5-10, fr., Wilson Young player could be Rams’ next playmaker.

F Violet Morrow, 5-10, jr., Wilson A year after serving as role-playing rebounder, she will play everywhere.

W/F Callan Russell, 5-11, jr., Timberline Arguably league’s best inside-outside threat is key to Blazers’ run.

F Linae Myhand, 5-9, sr., Timberline Strong, skilled post is a double-double waiting to happen.

C Tamia Braggs, 6-1, soph., Lincoln Long-armed explosive athlete can dominate the post in so many ways.

Fastbreak: At the rate Wilson is producing talented players, its reign on league supremacy could continue for years. Wilson might have a new cast of characters — including Matz who already leads team in scoring at more than 13 points per game — but Timberline could be right on its heels for a second straight season. The Blazers’ big 3 of Russell, Myhand and Sara Bowen account for most of offense. Myhand already has been at or near a double-double in three games. … A lot of North Thurston’s success depends on wing Hayley Niles, who has guardlike ball-handling skills to go along with 6-foot-2 frame. … This could be Shelton coach Aaron Leth’s best Highclimbers team, as he enters his third season at helm. While the Highclimbers are coming off a one-win campaign, they return all five starters.

2A Evergreen Conference

Crystal ball (2012-13 records)

1. W.F. West (22-5)

2. Black Hills (15-8)

3. River Ridge (20-7)

4. Centralia (13-12)

5. Aberdeen (10-12)

6. Capital (4-16)

7. Tumwater (4-16)

Starting five

G Jazzlynn Brewster, 5-6, sr., River Ridge Team’s leading scorer last season is not afraid to take over.

W Emily Fisher, 6-0, sr., Aberdeen One of few post players in the EvCo who can hit the 3.

F Sarah McGee, 5-11, sr., Black Hills Southern Utah signee has guardlike ball-handling skills.

F Julie Spencer, 6-2, jr., W.F. West Pure post with an outside shooting touch.

C Nike McClure, 6-3, sr., W.F. West WSU signee’s athleticism extends beyond ability to dunk.

Fastbreak: The road to the league title goes through the tall trees in Chehalis. Three players — Spencer, McClure and Tiana Parker — are 6-2 or taller, making it the area’s biggest frontcourt. McClure, a Tenino transfer, sat out varsity competition last season. … This is one of Black Hills’ most experienced teams, featuring four returning starters (McGee, Sydney Sauls, Nicole Nurmi, Shayla Smothers) who averaged better than 30 points combined a season ago. … River Ridge’s speed and strong guard play by Brewster and McKenna Schultz will be nightmare for most teams’ offenses. And inside-outside play of Savannah McGill and Rebecca Stevenson make the Hawks equally tough inside. … Centralia’s run-and-gun offense will be without guard Alyx Fast (knee), but don’t expect the Tigers to slow down too much under second-year head coach Tom Kelly, who led River Ridge to the state title in 2010. … Capital already closing in on surpassing win total from a year ago (four); 6-2 forward Spencer Pettit is averaging double figures in scoring. … Tumwater — with its speed and overall athleticism still in a youth movement — returns three starters, led by senior guard Ashley Christoffer.

1A Southwest Washington Evergreen

Crystal ball (2012-13 records)

1. Elma (16-6)

2. Rochester (15-9)

3. Hoquiam (15-10)

4. Rainier (11-12)

5. Montesano (15-10)

6. Forks (2-15)

7. Tenino (0-20)

Starting five

G Keeli Demers, 5-8, jr., Rochester Point guard with lethal combination of size and speed. Already has a 20-point game.

G Brooke Goldsmith, 5-7, sr., Elma Eagles’ running game starts with Goldsmith, who could add league MVP honors to her fastpitch, soccer awards.

G Megan Choate, 5-5, jr., Montesano Lots of Bulldogs’ scoring load will fall on the point guard, who often draws a double team .

G Sydney Smythe, sr., Elma Speed on soccer field translates nicely to hardwood.

G Brandi Creviston, 5-5, sr., Hoquiam In fourth year of tormenting opposing teams with 3-point shooting.

Fastbreak: Don’t be surprised if it’s déj vu between Elma and Rochester: League heavyweights are loaded, and Eagles are in search of third straight league title. The Warriors, a team known for high-scoring offense and tenacious defense, welcomes back all starters on a team that had a 10-win improvement. Demers is one of the top scoring point guards around. … First-year Rainier coach Marianna Smith, a former assistant under Russ Riches at 4A Yelm, inherits a program with three players taller than 5-foot-10, including 6-3 sophomore Peyton Dungan. She, along with 6-2 Taylor Tibbetts of Tenino, are league’s tallest players. They’ll face off for the first time when Tenino visits Rainier on Jan. 14. … With Tenino’s youth, the Beavers could be another year away from making a push for the playoffs.

Class 2B

Northwest Christian Navigators

Coach: Rick Thomas

2012-13 record: Not available

Returning starters: 3

Top players: F Megan Van Marter, 6-1, jr.; F Emily Van Marter, sr.; G MacKenzie Reeves, 5-8, sr.

mwochnick@theolympian.com

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