Little more than two miles of Ruddell Road separate Timberline High School from Saint Martin’s University.
The two schools are closer than that in Sara Bowen’s heart.
The Blazers’ 5-foot-7 senior point guard, who recently signed a letter of intent with SMU, grew up with a desire to play in both programs. Since childhood she has attended Saints games as a fan, and she began playing varsity fall league for the Blazers in seventh grade, just as Timberline prepared to make its first run to the state tournament.
“They were so good,” Bowen said of the 2010-11 Blazers, who finished 23-2.
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That squad included Sasha Weber, now a senior at New Mexico State and the most recent Timberline player to sign with a four-year university; Camille Williams, the 3A Narrows League player of the year; and Cymone Martin and McKenzie Raben, who were both all-league selections.
“I wanted to live up to their standards even after they graduated,” Bowen said. “They put their spirit into me.”
But that spirit was a late arrival behind her fascination with SMU basketball.
“When I was a little kid, we would go to the games and I saw the level they competed at,” she said. “I looked up to (the Saints) as my idols and wanted to be like them. When the opportunity came to go to Saint Martin’s, I grabbed it.”
Last season, Bowen made her case to college coaches by averaging 15 points, 3.2 assists and 2.1 steals.
Along with forward Callan Russell, now a freshman at Tacoma Community College, she made good on a promise the two had made to take the Blazers back to the regional round of state.
Russell had been there as a freshman backup in 2011-12 when Timberline made a second consecutive appearance.
“We wanted something like that for ourselves,” Bowen said.
When they got it, it was a unique accomplishment. Timberline made it back to regionals in its first year as a Class 4A school, and Zandrea Edenstrom’s 10th and final season as head coach.
When Tim Borchardt took over the head coach’s job this year after three seasons as Edenstrom’s assistant, he was grateful to have Bowen still a part of a varsity squad that includes four freshmen (Jaysa Brandis, Kiara Brooks, Rayanna Dyas, Mia Harriott) and a sophomore (Briyanna Gardner).
“I haven’t changed much of what we do,” said Borchardt, who also played basketball at SMU. “So Sara’s knowledge of our offensive and defensive philosophy helps us in teaching the younger kids. It’s hard for me to see everything that’s going on in practice, but her basketball IQ is so high she’s like an assistant coach.”
Looking down the road, Bowen says she hopes the young players she’s helping today continue Timberline’s success.
“They have a chance to be very good their junior and senior years,” she said. “I need to make sure they know what Timberline’s basketball program is all about, help them make the transition from middle school to big-kid basketball.”
Assuming a vocal leadership role hasn’t come naturally to Bowen, who’s been more of a lead-by-example player in the past.
“She’s coming out of her shell,” Borchardt said. “It’s huge for her to have more of a vocal presence as a point guard. It will help her with the transition to college ball as well.”
In both of Timberline’s early season victories, Bowen’s influence at the point helped close out the games late.
“Having Sara’s calm presence going into the fourth quarter was key,” Borchardt said. “If we’d have had a younger point guard it would have been a lot more difficult to get those wins (over Tumwater and Yelm). We can give it to her and let her handle it. She knows when to attack and not to attack.”
Bowen has built her knowledge and skills in a basketball career that began at age 3, on a team coached by her dad, Bob, that used foam basketballs.
As she has advanced through the AAU and high school ranks, she has been coached by not only Edenstrom and Borchardt, but accomplished local girls prep coaches Jeff Randich, Tom Kelly and Jackie Robinson.
She also spends three hours a week beyond Timberline’s practices working on her shooting and quick drives to the basket. When the season ends, she’ll begin a weight-training program provided by SMU and continue to run and shoot, looking forward to a college career that will include one more hometown bonus — the chance to play with friend and occasional AAU teammate Makenna Schultz, a River Ridge guard also signed by Saints coach Tim Healy this fall.
“I love Makenna as a person and I love her as a basketball player,” Bowen said. “I’m so excited we can continue our basketball careers together.”
All without leaving Lacey.
League prediction: Bellarmine Prep, South Kitsap, Olympia, Gig Harbor, Timberline, Yelm, Stadium.
Mark the date: Timberline at Olympia, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13.
Coach: Jackie Robinson, first season.
2014-2015 record: 18-8, 9-3 4A Narrows.
Impact players: G Carly Carlson, 5-0, sr.; F Lillyanne Landers, 6-0, jr.; G Moriah Luthy, 5-1, sr.; G Jenna Randich, 5-7, sr.; F Sophie Wood, 5-8, sr.
The skinny: Robinson takes the reins after four seasons at River Ridge, and the Bears, led by seniors Randich, Wood and Luthy, are 3-2 (2-0 4A Narrows) to start. A pair of league wins against Yelm and Gig Harbor has Olympia tied for first place early.
Coach: Tim Borchardt, first season.
2014-2015 record: 15-11, 6-6 4A Narrows.
Impact players: G Sara Bowen, 5-7, sr.; G Cadence Monti, 5-6, jr.; F Keshara Romain, 5-9, so.; G Natalie Stark, 5-8, jr.
The skinny: Timberline returns three starters from last season’s squad, which reached the regional round of the 4A state tournament. A Saint Martin’s commit, Bowen, a Saint Martin’s commit who averaged 15 points last season, leads the way for the 2-3 (1-2 4A Narrows) Blazers.
Coach: Russ Riches, 20th season.
2014-2015 record: 6-14, 3-9 4A Narrows.
Impact players: G Kalista Fourre, 5-7, sr.; F Hannah Hale, 5-11, sr.; G Chloe Zimmerman, 5-10, jr.
The skinny: Height poses a challenge, but the Tornados (1-5, 0-3 4A Narrows) will extend full-court pressure to try to make up the difference. Hale, one of four returning starters, brings experience in the post — she averaged 8 points a game last season.
League prediction: Wilson, Lincoln, Central Kitsap, Capital, North Thurston, Mount Tahoma, Foss.
Mark the date: Olympia at Capital, 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 23.
Coach: Colleen Wells, 15th season.
2014-2015 record: 4-18, 4-10 3A Narrows.
Impact players: G Palen Fenton, 5-5, jr.; G Olivia Jackowich, 5-8, sr.; G Laurel Mack-Wilson, 5-8, sr.; G Jada Pearson, 5-3, sr.; G Delani West, 5-6, jr.
The skinny: Already tied last season’s win total at 4-1 (2-1 3A Narrows). Jackowich — who averaged a team-leading 8 points last season — Pearson and West share the scoring load as Capital’s three returning starters. Fenton has posted a pair of double-digit games.
Coach: Mike Harn, fifth season.
2014-2015 record: 8-13, 8-6 3A Narrows.
Impact players: F Lauren Bailey, 5-8, so.; G Rokki Brown, 5-6, fr.; G Quinlan Christian, 5-7, so.; G Brooklyn Harn, 5-7, fr.
The skinny: Seven of 10 varsity players are freshman or sophomores, which has been a speed bump for the Rams (1-6, 1-3 3A Narrows) so far in a league with likely state contenders Wilson and Lincoln. Bailey was the only all-3A Narrows freshman selection last season.
Coach: Aaron Leth, fifth season.
2014-2015 record: 3-17, 3-11 3A Narrows.
Impact players: G Aurora Gouley, 5-4, sr.; F Paige Johnson, 5-11, jr.; G Timber Ware, 5-4, fr.
The skinny: Shelton returns three starters — including Gouley, who was an all-3A Narrows selection last season — as the Climbers are off to a 4-3 (1-2 3A Narrows) start. Will have the same obstacles as the rest of the league in trying to manage Wilson and Lincoln at the top.
League prediction: White River, Franklin Pierce, River Ridge, Fife, Steilacoom, Orting, Washington, Clover Park.
Mark the date: River Ridge at Black Hills, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 22.
Coach: Steve Schultz, first season.
2014-2015 record: 17-11, 10-4 2A SPSL.
Impact players: G Mallory Papac, 5-6, jr.; F Madeline Retzlaf, 5-11, so.; G Makenna Schultz, 5-3, sr.; F Melanie Wilson, 5-10, so.; G Caitlyn Yenne, 5-9, so.
The skinny: Schultz — Makenna, that is — is the only returning starter as her father enters his first season. The Saint Martin’s commit averaged 22 points last season, but River Ridge has inexperience to battle to return to the 2A state tournament, where it went two-and-out last season.
League prediction: W.F. West, Black Hills, Centralia, Tumwater.
Mark the date: W.F. West at Black Hills, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Coach: Tanya Greenfield, fourth season.
2014-2015 record: 17-9, 4-2 2A EvCo.
Impact players: G Emma Duff, 5-11, jr.; G Lindsey Nurmi, 5-5, so.; F Maisy Williams, 5-11, fr.
The skinny: Lost in regional round of 2A state tournament last season, and only returns two starters, but Duff — an all-2A EvCo selection last season — is averaging 14 points. Williams is adding another 13 per game for the 4-1 Wolves.
Coach: Doug Ashmore, second season.
2014-2015 record: 9-13, 1-5 2A EvCo.
Impact players: F Ellie Corwin, 5-11, so.; G Madi Crews, 5-7, sr.; G Alyx Fast, 5-9, sr.
The skinny: With Fast returning from a two-year injury absence — ACL tears in both knees — the Tigers suddenly have a loaded backcourt. Between Fast and Crews — who averaged 10 points last season — Centralia is 4-2.
Coach: Alyssa Vogt, second season.
2014-2015 record: 10-13, 1-5 2A EvCo.
Impact players: G Mackenzie Bergquist, 5-9, sr.; F Brooke Hare, 6-0, jr.; G Sierra Snyder, 5-8, jr.
The skinny: Split with Centralia last season for a share of last place in 2A EvCo. The T-Birds, who are 2-3 to start, will have to rely on returning experience in all-league selections Bergquist, who dropped 24 points against Yelm, and Snyder (21 points).
Coach: Tom Kelly, first season.
2014-2015 record: 23-4, 6-0 2A EvCo.
Impact players: G Rylee Hanson, 5-7, sr.; G Julia Johnson, 5-5, so.; G Shasta Lofgren, 5-5, jr.; G Jessica McKay, 5-7, sr.; G Kiara Steen, 5-3, so.; F Lexi Strasser, 6-2, jr.
The skinny: Have advanced to the 2A state title game for three years in a row, W.F. West returns three starting guards in Hanson, Lofgren and McKay. The Bearcats most recently defeated 4A SPSL’s Bethel to jet to a 4-0 start.
League prediction: Montesano, Elma, Eatonville, Aberdeen, Hoqiuam, Rochester, Tenino, Forks.
Mark the date: Montesano at Elma, 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 9.
Coach: AJ Easley, eighth season.
2014-2015 record: 14-7, 12-2 1A EvCo.
Impact players: G Courtney Baird, 5-7, sr.; G Hunter Hahn, 5-7, so.; G Joni Lancaster, 5-8, sr.; F Madison Justice, 5-11, sr.
The skinny: Finding consistency seems the biggest hurdle for the 1-5 (1-2 1A EvCo) Warriors. Of Rochester’s five losses, three were by single digits. Lancaster and Justice, both all-league selections last season, are back to lead the Warriors.
Coach: Lisa Johnson, 15th season.
2014-2015 record: 10-11, 8-6 1A EvCo.
Impact players: F Conley Doyle, 6-0, sr.; F Peyton Elliott, 5-7, jr.; G Jordaan Hall, 5-9, sr.; F Molly Johnston, 6-0, fr.; G Maddie Thompson, 5-8, sr.
The skinny: Early-season matchups have been a breeze for an Elma team that was one game shy of a regional berth last season. The 6-0 (3-0 1A EvCo) Eagles have won every game by double-digits, and haven’t scored less than 50.
Coach: Tano Bailon, second season.
2014-2015 record: 5-14, 3-11 1A EvCo.
Impact players: F Felicia Grubbe, 5-6, jr.; F Keilah Dowies, 5-7, sr.; F Lannie Dowies, 5-7, so.; G Merissa Richardson, 5-5, sr.; G Ryann-Wachter-Strange, 5-4, so.
The skinny: Despite returning five starters, the Beavers have dropped six in a row to start the season 0-6 (0-3 1A EvCo), including three to league rivals Montesano (1A EvCo favorite), Hoquiam and Eatonville.
League prediction: Raymond, Ilwaco, North Beach, Life Christian Academy, Ocosta, South Bend, Tacoma Baptist, Willapa Valley, Chief Leschi, Rainier, Northwest Christian.
Mark the date: Northwest Christian at Rainier, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13.
Coach: Rick Thomas, third season.
2014-2015 record: 10-12, 4-6 2B Pacific.
Impact players: F Heidi Sowers, 5-10, jr.; G/F Elizabeth Stottlemyre, 5-9, jr.
The skinny: The Navigators are relatively young and struggling with depth. That’s translated into nothing but losses to start the season. Development of younger players will be the key as the season progresses, but Northwest Christian is 0-5 (0-1 2B Pacific) out of the gate.
Coach: Marianna Smith, third season.
2014-2015 record: 8-11, 3-7 2B Pacific.
Impact players: G Kera Anderson, 5-6, sr.; F Peyton Dungan, 6-4, sr.; F Taylor Holmes, 5-8, jr.
The skinny: Returners Anderson and Dungan are a solid 1-2 combo, each averaging 14 points for the 3-3 (0-1 2B Pacific) Mountaineers. Dungan is pulling down an average of 19 rebounds so far, and has recorded a double-double in five of six games.