Hailey Higashi has dual identities.
The St. George’s junior is a Dragon in winter, firing the girls team into Thursday’s WIAA State 2B basketball opener. Summers she’s been a Sandpiper, flitting about the country on a team of players with college basketball aspirations.
Higashi says that right now the focus is “to bring home the gold ball,” – the state championship.
District champion St. George’s (21-6) and Colfax (19-7) both represent the Northeast 2B League with early games on Thursday in the eight-team event at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.
Colfax opens against Wahkiakum at 9 a.m., followed by St. George’s versus Napavine at 10:30.
The two teams met four times with the Dragons winning three, but only one point – total – separated them.
Higashi, the point guard and leading scorer, plays a major role in the Dragons’ success. She not only orchestrates their offense and defense, but accounts for over a third of their scoring.
“She is a player who has a lot of experience at a high level of AAU,” said coach Mark Rickard of the savvy team leader. “She teaches all the things you can’t replicate without all that experience. Obviously she’s a tremendous talent. But as a junior she’s really making everyone around her better.”
Not to mention her ability to pile up the points. She’s averaging roughly 18 points per game and scored 20 or more in 11 games with a season-high of 30. In one game, Higashi tallied 28 of the team’s total of 35 points.
She has scored more and assumed more leadership, she said, due to the loss of Ceci Bergquist, a junior relegated to the bench because of a knee injury last year.
“She was a key part of our team, a big leader on our team,” Higashi said. “I just play my hardest and go out and spark the whole team, keep the poise, chemistry and rock and roll with it.”
Higashi has successfully melded the education while playing at St. George’s and teaming with big-school athletes like Laura Stockton and Otiona Gildon, who led Gonzaga Prep to two State 4A titles and are now playing in college.
She joined the Sandpipers as a sixth-grader and for the last two seasons played with the traveling team.
“She’s a good kid, hard worker and she has some talent,” said her club coach Kerry Pickett. “Hailey is very strong and can really shoot the ball.”
Rickard said Higashi has made 72 3-point baskets this winter.
“I actually had thoughts my eighth-grade year of moving to a bigger school,” Higashi said.
But the community atmosphere and overriding emphasis on academics has been a boon for St. George’s. Summer basketball is the tool, she believes, that can help her play when the chase for that gold ball is over.
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