The Mead girls basketball team is like an orchestra. Each player knows her role, and when the Panthers blend their talents they make sweet music. They’ve prepared all season long for the final concerts – three days in Tacoma next week with the crescendo, they hope, being a date in the State 4A championship game.
The Panthers have one last tuneup before the trip over Snoqualmie Pass. Mead (21-1) takes on Puyallup (20-5) in a state opener Friday at Wenatchee High School. Tipoff is at 6.
While the Panthers have Tacoma on their minds, they’re not looking past Puyallup.
They learned a valuable lesson about looking past an opponent during Greater Spokane League play. Mead would be undefeated had it not been for a 44-43 loss to State 3A qualifier University.
“We’re a turnover in the final 12 seconds of being undefeated,” Mead coach Quantae Anderson said.
Strange as it may sound, the Panthers are grateful they lost. That means Mead, ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll, opens state with one less bull’s-eye on its back. Carrying an unblemished record to state many times can be an albatross.
Anderson is in his second year as Mead’s coach. He conducts with a soft stroke, giving his players much freedom.
“He tells us he’ll make us run plays if he has to, but he figures we should be able to play our games,” senior post Mackenzie McPhee said.
All the Panthers have the green light to shoot within the flow of the offense. That liberty has allowed Mead, especially its starters, to shoot with particular efficiency.
McPhee, senior Jade Redmon, juniors Delany Junkermier and Ashlyn Lewey and sophomore Sue Winger have combined to make 50 percent of their shots from the field (395 of 793). The percentage is much higher at the free-throw line where they’re a combined 79 percent (273 of 344).
Redmon, who averages a team-leading 15.5 points per game, is shooting a team-best 89 percent (110 of 123) from the foul line and Junkermier (14.8 ppg) is next at 84 percent (84 of 100).
“We all have confidence to shoot our shots,” Redmon said. “If you’re open, you better shoot.”
Lewey and Winger chip in 10.2 and 10.0 ppg. McPhee scores 6.2 and has broken double figures five times.
“We pass the ball, plain as can be,” Junkermier said. “Everyone gives up shots so we can get the best shot. It’s hard to beat a team with five girls capable of scoring in double figures.”
All the starters are 6 foot or taller except the 5-8 Redmon, the team’s point guard who signed with Eastern Washington University.
“I really consider them all guards even though we have some height,” Anderson said. “Our top seven can handle the rock.”
Mead came close to breaking through last year, losing to eventual state runner-up Central Valley by a point in an elimination game. The Panthers had a 12-point lead over CV.
“After getting so close last year, we knew we could do it this year,” Lewey said. “We just had to push harder and dig deeper.”
The loss left a sour taste in the Panthers’ mouths and intensified their focus for this year.
“We didn’t like how it ended last year,” Junkermier said. “We thought we had that game. We worked hard this year to not get in a position where a state berth could be taken from us.”
“It put fuel to our fire,” McPhee said.
Roles are clearly defined on the team.
“That’s what I love about this team,” Winger said. “Everybody brings something to this team. What I appreciate is how everyone plays for the team. I admire that about my teammates.”
There’s a bond that runs deep among the Panthers.
“We are truly a family,” McPhee said. “I’ve never been on a team that gets along so well.”