Tight-knit seniors lead Shadle to state
Trio teammates since childhood
They’ve played basketball together with success since elementary school and been on varsity all four years at Shadle Park. Now seniors Lindsay Niemeier, Bianca Pope and Tori Dezellem, in their final road trip together, have reached the Promised Land.
The bus pulled out Tuesday for Tacoma and the State 3A girls basketball tournament, the Highlanders’ (19-5) first appearance since 2000. They open today at 5 p.m. against Ferndale (16-7), which features 6-foot senior Ashley Honeycutt, a four-year starter who averages 19.6 points per game.
“We’ve been so close before,” Shadle coach Chad Dezellem said over the background blare of music and video. “I always want the kids to finish their careers with a bus ride.”
This week’s state appearance is the culmination of long and successful basketball careers for all three. As freshmen, they played sparingly on a team that reached district. They were 4A regional semifinalists as sophomores and came within a win of state last year. With each successive season, the three played increasingly important roles.
Niemeier, who is headed to Eastern Washington University for volleyball, set the Highlanders to a state title last fall and led the basketball team in scoring during the winter.
Dezellem is Shadle’s point guard with a 21/2-1 career assist-to-turnover ratio.
“That’s unheard of,” her dad said. “It’s a benefit to have someone who can take care of the ball like that and distribute it.”
She and Pope, who is being recruited by colleges for track after a third-place state javelin finish last year, were members of Shadle’s state-qualifying soccer team. All are major contributors to Shadle’s strength, defense.
“The true thing that makes this team go is that five players out there make it tough on teams to score,” Chad Dezellem said. “All three seniors are defensive stoppers and all have been able to frustrate people. And Niemeier and Pope are beasts on the boards.”
Chad coached them beginning when the three joined forces in AAU basketball and won a couple of championships.
The key to this year’s state-qualifying effort has been togetherness, Pope said.
“I thought we had the heart and desire but didn’t connect as a team (in the past),” Pope said. “This year we connected so much and rely on each other.”
Pope said her job is to bring energy and confidence to the team, score and defend as needed.
“Bianca is one of those players who is working her butt off the entire time,” Tori Dezellem said. “Everything on our team starts with defense and she’s always one to ignite us with speed and athleticism.”
Niemeier said Pope is a 5-foot-9 athlete who plays like she’s 6-8.
“She will guard the tallest player on the floor and move her out of the key,” Niemeier said.
Pope was Shadle’s second-leading scorer as a junior, and during 3A regionals the past two weeks led the team with a 12.5 scoring average. Although four-year colleges want her for track, she said basketball is her passion.
Niemeier had to share time with her club volleyball team, missing an occasional practice but never a game.
“She always did everything she possibly could,” Chad Dezellem said. “I was worried about her running herself ragged, but never worried where her heart is.”
Niemeier said it made her more mature as a player. She knows volleyball keeps her busy and is her future, but still loves playing basketball.
“We’ve been playing together forever,” she said of her relationship with the other seniors. “We have that chemistry. I figured when the season came around I’d flow back into it.”
Shadle’s scoring has been spread among many and no Highlanders player averages double figures. Niemeier led with a 9.5 average, but she said it was inconsequential.
“I had no idea I was the scoring leader to begin with,” she said. “I’d rather focus on the defensive end.”
Dezellem and Pope said Niemeier’s strength is leadership.
“She plans our team dinners, brings energy and a positive attitude,” Pope said.
“Whenever someone needs a pat on the back or encouragement, she’s the first one there,” Dezellem said.
Dezellem said she has loved playing for her dad all these years. It’s a mutual admiration society. Chad Dezellem calls his daughter an organized and driven young lady. Similar personalities have led to inevitable clashes.
“There are definitely moments we didn’t see eye to eye, but I wouldn’t change it for anything,” she said.
“In the end, she’s still my daughter,” he said. “That said, she understands I’m the coach.”
Tori Dezellem said she sees her role as that of defender and playmaker, someone who would rather have more assists than points.
“She will get you the ball,” Niemeier said. “I don’t really know how. It comes out of nowhere.”
She’s also an organizer who understands the game and helps others with it, Pope said.
Coach Dezellem said Shadle’s secret to success is that it’s their team and he’s there simply to help out. The three seniors have had a four-year influence on Shadle’s basketball fortunes.
They end where he figured they would, playing at state.