1. Mead (22-1): The Greater Spokane League winning Panthers are making their first trip back the state tournament since 2010 when they lost in the finals. They come in this year as the favorites with their best chance to win its first state title since 1996 – but they’ll have to go through the toughest bracket that includes No. 2 ranked Mount Rainier to do so. Senior Jade Redmond (15.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.2 apg) and junior Delany Junkermier (14.3 ppg) lead a strong starting-five that uses turnovers on defense to set-up fast-break opportunities and knock down three-pointers with the best of them.
2. Mount Rainier (25-1): Two years ago with this nucleus of players, the Rams went two-and-out at state. Last season, they finished third. Is this the year they bring home the big trophy? Everything runs through talented forward Brittany McPhee (26.8 ppg, 11.6 rpg), who has an uncanny knack of working through creases in a defense to find better shots. Alone, she makes this team a scary opponent. And throw in the contributions of her sister, Jordan (11.0 ppg, 5.0 apg) at point guard, and forward Emily Fiso on the inside – they apply constant pressure on both ends.
3. Gonzaga Prep (23-3): The Bullpups had some bad luck this season in losing their best player and Southern Utah-bound Madison Wright to a season-ending ACL injury in December. All three of their losses this season came against the GSL winner Mead – the technically-sound Bullpups won’t have to worry about their league rivals unless both make the state finals and there’s a distinct possibility it might happen. The Bullpups spread-out their offense and rely heavily on their guards and quick transitions to score – sophomore-post and 6-foot Otiona Gildon (14.4 ppg) has been the focal-point since Wright’s injury and will need to step up even more in Tacoma. The Bullpups share the point between sophomore Laura Stockton and junior Hannah Caudill.
4. Inglemoor (21-2): The KingCo champions might have the deepest roster of the eight schools heading to Tacoma — the Vikings will play up to 10 girls in any game and will attack from anywhere on the court. They have arguably the two tallest post-players in sophomore 6-foot-4 Deja Strothers (15 ppg, 12 rpg, 2 blkpg) whose already fielding 12 NCAA Division-I offers and sophomore Kennedy Nichols at 6-foot-3. Kelly Conroy (15 ppg) is the outside threat for the Vikings, averaging above 50-percent beyond the arc on the season. Teams can’t focus on a single aspect of the Viking offense, and with having fresher players heading to Tacoma they could be a surprisingly-tough out.
5. Skyline (20-5): These Spartans are different than previous teams in recent years – better conditioning has led to a relatively injury-free season. They have the KingCo MVP and Colorado-bound Haley Smith (12.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg) who’s a do-it-all wing. The Spartans are unselfish and utilize solid court-vision to set up the best shot – if they need to go outside, seniors Lacey Nichols (8.5 ppg) is their best spot-up shooter and Rachel Shim (9.7 ppg) has the ability to create space from defenders. Shim has played for the Spartans’ back-to-back girls soccer champions and is the only girl with post-season experience.
6. Arlington (20-4): The Eagles are an older team heading to Tacoma – they come in with six seniors after graduating six girls last year. The Spartans will use their points to push the ball up the floor but will look to settle down in the half-court on offense. Three-year captain and Idaho State-bound Lindsay Brown (13 ppg, 10 rpg) provides the intensity and focus for her team – Brown was named to the first team All-Wesco league along with senior Krista Showalter (9 ppg). Senior Winter Brown (7 ppg) – no relations to Lindsay – was on the second team all-league.
7. Kentwood (19-7): Play as a team, limit the turnover and play tough defense is the Conquerors motto – the SPSL North Conks are led by senior-guard Sarah Toeaina who was on the News Tribune’s all-area second team. The lengthy-senior Kylee Ashley has been a beast on defense – she set a single-game school record with eight blocks in a win over Skyview two weeks ago. Ashley Rolsma was quiet at the beginning of the year (2-3 ppg) but has been a solid option for the Conks the last five game (7-11 ppg). Their defense will be tested early as they open the tournament against Lake Stevens and the Pahukoa sisters.
8. Lake Stevens (19-7): The Vikings lost out in the regionals last year to the eventual state champions Skyview. That loss and having to play through the schools toughest schedule in eight seasons has the Vikings ready. Boise State-bound Brooke Pahukoa (19 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.2 spg) is finally getting healthy from a dislocated pinky that sidelined her for seven games. Brooke’s sister, Brittany (10.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.2 apg, 3.2 spg) – who’s also heading to Boise State – sets the tone for the Vikings offense. Kali Long (9.1 ppg) might be the Vikings most significant player as she’ll provide a third scoring option. Better balance could have the Vikings sneak by as a surprise team in Tacoma.