1, Cleveland (24-2): When defending 3A champion Prairie exited in the regional round, the state-title chase became even more wide open. So why start here? For starters, the Eagles won the 3A crown in 2010. And they’ve been back to the big dance every year since then. Metro League player of the year Makala Roper (15.7 ppg) is the brand of go-to scorer, and guard Myzhanique Ladd is the type of fast-thinking, quick-moving guard that gets Cleveland into its high-motor offense. After two early defeats, the Eagles have won 23 games in a row. Best bet to win it all.
2, Wilson (21-2): Right now, the Rams are rockin’ and rollin’ in the north end of Tacoma. They took out No. 1 Prairie in convincing matter in the West Central District title game, and figured out something in the process – teamwork wins. And even though Wilson has played its best featuring post player Tia Briggs (12.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg), it only works if guard Bethany Montgomery (16.9 ppg, 3.4 steals) yields a little bit of the reins. As coach Michelle Birge said last week, with this core group of seniors, the goal is to win it all. And they certainly are capable.
3, Bellevue (24-2): What a turnaround. At the outset, the Wolverines were beset by injuries to their veterans. So they turned their fortunes over to the young players, and it has worked out well. Forward Shelby Cansler (16.4 ppg), a ninth grader, is active inside – and was named the KingCo MVP and defensive player of the year. She is joined by three other freshmen, two sophomores – and now a full bandwagon of supporters. Bellevue will live and die with its quick pace, aggressive defense and emerging youth.
4, Seattle Prep (21-5): The 2002 state champions bring the biggest team into the Tacoma Dome with three 6-footers – led by 6-2 center Michaela Curew (10.3 pps, 8.0 rpg), who will walk on at Montana State. And the Panthers certainly have the guards to make things happen on the perimeter. So what are they missing? Well, they haven’t been able to get past Cleveland, losing three close games to the Eagles. But with their state experience (three trips in past four years), never rule them out.
5, University (14-9): The Titans don’t boast a stellar record or glossy statistics. It is because they come from the 4A/3A Greater Spokane League – the home of championship girls’ basketball. Forward Kayleigh Valley (18.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg) is a Montana signee, and three-year starter. She is easily their best offensive weapon. But underclassman-heavy University (two freshmen, one sophomore in top eight), a 2007 4A finalist, is really building this thing for the long haul.
6, Kamiakin (15-8): The last time the Braves were in Tacoma, they came into the 3A championships with a 23-0 record – and were promptly dismissed in two games. But even with their lack of size, they still can pile on the points with Columbia Conference player of the year Courtney Nelson (17.3 ppg), Sira Toure (14.7 ppg) and Lindsey Schauble (10.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg). Their plan is to run with anybody – hopefully with great success.
7, Glacier Peak (18-6): One way to celebrate getting to the big dance? Dance in your locker room, which is how the Grizzlies have fun. And in five years of existence, they have played pretty good basketball – reaching the final eight in 2011, and getting knocked out in the regional round last season. A real balanced bunch, Glacier Peak has 6-4 Nikke Fausey (8.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg) to anchor the frontcourt – hopefully opening up things for forward Allie Weathersby.
8, Mercer Island (21-7): Easily the tournament’s biggest turnaround story, the Islanders went from a 5-15 record last season to making the 3A quarterfinals in the Tacoma Dome. They won’t win any shootouts – and do not plan to with their defense, which is holding opponents to an average of 44 points per game. Guard Kris Brackman (13.7 ppg) is the team’s best scoring option. Four of Mercer Island’s seven losses are to Bellevue.