Watching the replay Monday of their State AA basketball championship victory on the big screen in the West Valley High School auditorium, Eagle players remained incredulous.
“I’ve watched championships since I was a kid and (teams) were so big and so good,” said senior forward Keisha Sowers. “It’s amazing to think we’re that team.”
The unexpected state title came from girls who had never had a winning season prior to this year. As juniors they did not even qualify for the Frontier League playoffs.
“I’m not sure what the difference was,” said senior Stacey Roberts, who had the week of her basketball life in Tacoma. “We just pulled together as a team.”
After losing the first two games of the 1996-97 season, West Valley won 22 of its final 24.
They did it by fearlessly shooting the 3-point ball, yes. But there were other factors to consider, including senior maturity.
“All people talked about was us hoisting 3’s,” said assistant coach Steve Lawler. “What people don’t understand is the defense we played.”
After running up and down the floor in their opener, West Valley allowed 44 points or fewer in its other three wins.
“Defense dictates how may 3’s we put up,” said head coach Mark Kuipers. “The better defense we play, the more (shooting) opportunities we get.”
Kuipers credited Roberts and junior Gabby McClintock with taking away the inside-oriented offenses of opposition teams.
“It went through my head that these could be the last two games of my life,” said Roberts at the start of the tournament. “I needed to play my best basketball ever.”
Kuipers took over the girls team four years ago after assisting Joe Feist in the boys program.
“When I started,” said Kuipers, “my whole thing was to get kids playing a lot.”
When she was a freshman, Dawn Salfer became the first of this group to play for Kuipers. Her ensuing career was spotty and hampered by injury, but Saturday night she ended it with a 17-point outburst in the title game.
“Scoring was only part of it,” said Kuipers. “What made me happy is how she finished, as a champion and leader.”
Roberts, Sowers, Sherry Shollenberger and Cindy Simpson joined Salfer as sophomores.
Sowers made her living rebounding and scoreing off missed shots.
“All this week she was in foul trouble,” said Kuipers, “But for us to be successful she realized we needed her, particularly in the fourth quarter.”
Shollenberger and Simpson provided spark off the bench. Shollenberger with her long-range shooting, Simpson with her quickness, and three clutch free throws in the second-day win over Stanwood.
“It’s a huge, huge responsibility to come in cold and still deliver,” said Kuipers.
Joining them last year were McClintock and Angie Kallas.
The multi-talented McClintock was all-tournament and, said Kuipers, “the rock” of this WV championship season.
Kallas’ floor leadership was valuable. She also made 11 of WV’s 25 3-point baskets at state.
“Dawn gets hurt and a point guard falls in out of the sky,” said Kuipers. “She went out with a bang.”
That all-around depth of talent was why WV proved unbeatable in Tacoma.
“Do you relaize what you’ve done?” Feist told Kuipers following the title. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
The team and coaches are basking in it a little bit, Kuipers admitted.
“It’s euphoria,” said Sowers. “I’m still walking on air.”
Added Roberts, “Just thinking about it, seeing it on TV and receiving the congratulations is really neat.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 4 color photos