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Shadle Park sets sights on another state bid

Shadle Park seniors Kendra Knutsen, left, and Chelsea Chandler are longtime friends and teammates. (Dan Pelle)
Shadle Park seniors Kendra Knutsen, left, and Chelsea Chandler are longtime friends and teammates. (Dan Pelle)

Best friends have played key roles in the resurrection of Shadle Park girls basketball.

Seniors Kendra Knutsen and Chelsea Chandler are four-year lettermen and three-year starters. They were at state two years ago when the Highlanders took second and captured the school’s first state trophy since 1989. Shadle Park took third last year.

The way Knutsen and Chandler figure it, there’s a piece of hardware missing from the recent haul. They want nothing less than a state championship.

Shadle Park assistant coach JT Johnson, who has assisted Chad Dezellem the past 13 years, knows he will wipe away several tears when the Highlanders have Senior Night next week.

Johnson has already had a few emotional moments knowing the careers of Knutsen and Chandler are drawing to an end.

“They’ve played in a lot of games for us and taken us to new heights,” Johnson said. “I’ve already shed a few tears. They’ve been a big part of things. It’s going to be hard to replace them. They’ve been the leaders of this program.”

The friendship started in fourth grade when they began playing soccer together. They’ve played AAU basketball together since sixth grade. Their bond blossomed when they reached high school.

Unity is an important intangible to them. It’s something they say is the best trait of their team this year.

“Our team is so close,” Knutsen said. “The chemistry is so good on and off the court. It’s a lot more important to girls teams than guys. Guys can leave things off the court and girls tend to carry things onto the court.”

Chandler agreed.

“We love each other and we work hard for each other,” Chandler said.

Chandler is a shooting guard and Knutsen is the point guard. Chandler has averaged 10.4 points, second best behind junior Aleisha Hathaway (14.8), and 6.5 rebounds. Knutsen has averaged 6.6 points and five assists.

“Chelsea is a tough kid,” Dezellem said. “When she catches, she’s ready to score. She has such a sweet stroke. She provides instant offense. She can create offense and score off the drive. She moves so well without the ball.”

Dezellem said Knutsen has been a rock at point guard.

“Kendra’s an interesting story, because when she first started playing AAU she was a post player because she was taller than everybody else,” Dezellem said.

Knutsen’s time in the post ended when she reached high school. She topped out at 5-foot-5.

“It’s made her a well-rounded player,” Dezellem said. “She’s extremely athletic and strong. She converted her game from inside to an outside game. Sometimes we’ll run four out and post her up to take advantage of a mismatch.”

Chandler and Knutsen are looking forward to the postseason.

“We have the potential to get back to the state championship game,” Chandler said.

As good as both players are on the court, they’re even better in the classroom. Knutsen carries a 4.0 grade-point average and will be one of Shadle’s valedictorians. Chandler has a 3.7 GPA.

They’re in five of six classes together, including college-level calculus and Spanish.

Chandler, a member of Shadle’s state title and state runner-up cross country teams the last two years, plans to run at Boise State University. Knutsen hopes to continue playing basketball in college but is keeping her options open, including joining Chandler at BSU.

Chandler loves basketball, but she took to running two years ago when she switched from volleyball.

“I’d rather be running every day than practicing basketball every day,” Chandler said.

Chandler and Knutsen have almost a sixth sense together on the court.

“I love how we work well together,” Knutsen said. “We just click.”

Chandler agreed.

“Kendra’s a solid, dependable player, and she’s very consistent,” Chandler said. “And she’s really strong defensively. That’s the weaker part of my game. I don’t move my feet well.”

Chandler has her strengths, though.

“She works so hard and has a great work ethic,” Knutsen said. “I’m confident that when I pass her the ball she’s going to score.”

A third straight trip to Tacoma for the Highlanders will be a much more difficult task than the last two years. For one, just eight teams advance to Tacoma after the tournament was split over two weekends. Just one Greater Spokane League team qualifies for the first round of state.

The Highlanders have hovered near the top of the GSL all season. Four of their five league defeats have been to 4A teams. Shadle suffered its first loss to a 3A team, North Central, on Tuesday.

“The league has definitely prepared us for the postseason,” Knutsen said.

They both agreed about what would be the key to a deep postseason run.

“We’re a defensive team,” Knutsen said.

“Our defense will keep us in games,” Chandler added. “That’s why we’ve done so well at state.”