The Lakeland High girls basketball team should have a wide-open path to the State 4A tournament this year.
Lakeland (7-16 overall last year) returns nine of 10 from a team that qualified for state.
“We’re ahead of where we were at this time last year,” Lakeland coach Steve Seymour said.
Lakeland’s record last year is a bit deceiving. Eight of the losses were against the highly competitive 5A Inland Empire League teams.
The Rathdrum school decided to withdraw from the IEL for at least a two-year period. Lakeland’s schedule this year is more in line with schools of similar enrollment. The Hawks will play just four 5A teams and a handful of similar-sized schools from Eastern Washington.
“I like our schedule a lot,” Seymour said. “It’s a good mix of 5A teams and teams from schools that are closer to our size. We’ll play a few schools that are smaller than us, but they’re from really established programs.”
With all of its starters and bench back, Lakeland won’t be pushed by the other two 4A teams – Sandpoint and Moscow – in the region. Moscow is coming off a 0-22 season while Sandpoint will be young after four returning players, including two starters, decided not to turn out.
Even if Moscow and Sandpoint had more seasoned teams, they would be hard pressed to challenge Lakeland.
Senior point guard Camille Reynolds (5-foot-5-inches), senior post Ali Whitted (5-11), senior post Kristyn App (6-0) and junior guard Emily Stecker (5-4) started last year. The fifth starting position rotated fairly evenly among four other players: senior wing Kari Rucker (5-9), senior wing Katie Imthurn (5-7), junior guard Alyana Watson (5-3) and senior guard Breezy Stecker (5-6).
Rounding out the roster are junior wing Jamie Quillin (5-7) and senior post Caelyn Close (5-9).
“We have a really good core group of athletes,” Seymour said. “We still have a long ways to go in terms of team development. I’d like to see them develop a little more cohesive understanding of the game. I want them to know what they want to do.”
Seymour said he will have more of a tolerance for mistakes if the mistakes are made in trying to be better basketball players.
“Last year they were trying to not make mistakes and didn’t play the game as well as they could,” he said. “We’re going to make mistakes regardless. We might as well make them trying to reach that higher rung. We may as well make them in pursuit of something great.
“It’s within them. They’re definitely capable of doing good things this season.”
Reynolds led Lakeland in scoring last year, averaging 12.5 points. She also averaged 3.4 rebounds, 2.9 steals and 2.6 assists.
Whitted was the second-leading scorer, averaging 8 ppg. She also averaged 6.5 rebounds, second only to App (7.3).
App played with a broken bone in her foot last year. It required surgery after the season and she had to sit out the volleyball season after starting the year before.
“She played through a lot of pain,” Seymour said. “It affected her mobility.”
Seymour sees a lot of individual improvement in his players.
Reynolds, App, Whitted and Emily Stecker will be steady starters. But Seymour said a fifth starter hasn’t emerged.
“Nobody stands out above the others,” Seymour said.
Adding to the competitive depth for that fifth spot is the emergence of Quillin. He could start any of five players.
Lakeland, which has qualified for state nine straight years, has gone 0-2 the past two years at state. The Hawks have higher goals this year.
“I certainly think this team is capable of doing something at state if we’re fortunate enough to get there,” Seymour said. “We need to push ourselves in practice. We have to be more competitive. We need more desire, more fire, other than what Camille provides. Sometimes we’re just too nice. It’s fine to be nice in chemistry, but in competitive situations in games it would be nice if we were more than just competitive. Winning and losing has to mean more to them.”
Lakeland opened its season Tuesday. The Hawks go to the Lady Bengal Classic at Lewiston this weekend where they will take on St. Maries on Friday.
This could easily be the Tigers’ best year in school history.
The Tigers (7-13 overall, 1-7 in the Intermountain League) are actually being mentioned as a possible contender for the IML championship and a possible first trip to state.
Timberlake returns eight lettermen including four starters. Those starters are sophomore post Cassie Thompson (6-0), senior guard Kacie Wenstrom (5-2), sophomore forward Caitlyn Nichols (5-9) and senior wing Kayla Kuchinski (5-7).
Freshman guard Kara Wenstrom (5-4), Kacie’s sister, has emerged as a starter as has junior wing Lexey Sanders (5-7). Kuchinski will be the Tigers’ first substitute.
Junior forward Kristen Gill (5-9), junior post Shayla Clark (6-1), senior wing Brittney Therriault (5-8) and freshman forward Kelly Madsen (5-9) will see time off the bench.
Thompson averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds last year and was named to the IML’s first team.
“I feel like we’re ahead of last year at this point,” Tigers coach Matt Miller said. “I think all the pieces are in place. We just need to get the job done.”
Timberlake averaged 30 turnovers last year.
“That cut down on our possessions,” Miller said. “We’d like to see it below 20 this year.”
Bonners Ferry, Priest River and Timberlake will likely battle for the league’s two state playoff berths.
“A lot depends on how much we improve,” Miller said. “Staying injury free will be a big deal. Hopefully our hard work will pay off.”
Timberlake opened the season with a 50-28 win over Clark Fork last Friday. The Tigers travel to Potlatch on Friday in a nonleague game.