Tenino High School girls basketball coach Brandi Thomas is in an enviable position.
She has the Beavers (13-5) headed into the District 4 Class 1A playoffs boasting the school’s best record in seven years, since Tenino finished 18-6 with future Washington State and University of New Mexico star Nike McClure in the lineup.
Three seniors, Kaylee Schow, Rhian Mathis and Charlie Letts, have led the way. Yet 10 of the 17 girls on varsity and JV are freshmen. Included in the mix of experience and youth are two sets of sisters.
“It’s pretty exciting to have three seniors in our program who we’ve seen evolve. They each lead in different ways. One is more vocal, the others lead by example and work ethic,” said Thomas, who has a 32-27 overall record in two-plus seasons. Tenino had a 43-148 record from 2006 until she took over.
“Two out of those three seniors have siblings who are freshmen. So we’ve been kind of dragging them along as far showing them the ins and outs of our program, getting them to buy in. It’s paying dividends for them now.”
Charlie Letts, a senior, and her freshman sister Megan have provided some valuable minutes. Charlie hit a half court shot in the final seconds to give the Beavers a 38-37 victory over Forks recently.
Senior Kaylee Schow, both a first-team all 1A Evergreen Conference and second-team Olympian all-area player in 2017-18, and her 6-foot-1 freshman sister Ashley have been a cut above most of Tenino’s competition.
“It’s fun to see that sister connection. They use it to feed off each other,” said Thomas, a former Washington State player herself who was a 1,400-point scorer at Elma during high school.
Kaylee and Ashley, born three years apart, seldom played AAU ball together, but made sure they developed the ability to mesh together on the court.
“We’ve gone to each other’s practices and practice at home together,” said Kaylee, who led the Beavers with 17 points during a home loss to Montesano on Tuesday. “We’ve practiced passing between each other a lot.”
“It’s really fun,” said Ashley. “We do have a connection. We play really well together. It’s good that we play different positions, we can work together better on the court.”
“I can kick into Ashley for an easy layup,” said Kaylee. “If she’s double-teamed she can kick it back out to me for a shot.”
The Beavers’ success this season is something the elder Schow has been waiting for. Her freshman season, Tenino won just two games. The next year, Thomas’ first, they snuck over the .500 barrier at 11-10, then slipped back below last year when the team ran into some chemistry issues.
“It’s really satisfying,” she said. “We’ve surprised a lot of people who didn’t think we’d do this well. They thought this year would be the same as last year, but we’re changing that. We’ve come together a lot more this year.
“We had one senior last year and a few girls who didn’t come back because basketball wasn’t their thing. Those of us who did come back are bringing the freshmen into what we’re buying into.”
With all but a few of the Beavers coming into the basketball season after playing on Tenino’s state-participant girls soccer team, there was confidence on the part of the players and high expectations from Thomas.
The Schow sisters’ individual performances – Kaylee averages 19.6 points per game, Ashley 11.5 – have sometimes exceeded expectations. Ashley has posted several double-doubles and back in December, Kaylee had what is believed to be a single-game record scoring output for Tenino.
Down by as many as 12 points, the Beavers rallied to beat Seton Catholic on the road in a non-league game thanks to 47 points from Kaylee. Though not as prolific, fellow senior Rhian Mathis has chipped in 6.8 points per game from the perimeter while freshman forward Alivia Hunter averages 5.6.
“Sometimes they focus on other people, or focus into the post, so the outside’s more open,” said Kaylee Schow. “Sometimes they focus on me so the inside is open.”
Added her sister, “When they focus on the outside, that opens up the middle, but when I do get double-teamed, I can kick it back out.”
Assured a berth in districts, along with fellow 1A EvCo contenders Elma and Montesano, the Beavers are looking forward to the postseason.
“We’ve been practicing very well. I couldn’t be more proud of them for all their hard work,” said Thomas. “Anything can happen.”
Heading into Tuesday’s regular-season finale at last-place Hoquiam, Kaylee Schow said her teammates want to finish their season in a large round building.
“Making it to state has been our goal since day one. We don’t want to just make it to regionals,” she said. “We want to make it to the (Yakima Valley Sun)Dome.”