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Mercer Island girls basketball prepares for action
The season’s first game is behind them and now the Mercer Island girls basketball team can really focus on what’s ahead rather than the anticipation of the beginning of the season.
The Islanders’ jamboree last week helped soothe the nerves of some, and fired others up so that the real challenge can begin, making their mark again. Four years ago the program was struggling to finish in the top of the league. Last year, the team finished sixth at state.
“When we first started having success, it was kind of unexpected; nobody anticipated that, but now I appreciate it. It’s become an expectation for our girls to win the league and compete at districts and compete at state,” said head coach Jamie Prescott. “It’s a complete mentality shift from what it was five years ago, so I think that’s awesome; but I also think that we have to learn, how do you have that big target on your back and respond, as opposed to being the underdog all the time?”
For the first time in a couple of years, the Islanders also have a greater number of young players on the squad, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have experience on the court. After losing a solid group of seniors last year, the team returns three starters from their most recent team.
“At some point our five starters this year all started last year, so I feel like we have some experience,” said Prescott. “Our three captains have tons of experience in competitive state games, but also nationally. I feel like they bring a lot of knowledge to the table and it’s just a matter of if they are able to impart it because two-thirds of the team are 10th and 9th graders.”
The captains, though, are up to that challenge.
“Basically, half our team is new and I definitely feel good, and (we have) strong leaders,” said senior captain Sarah Taylor. “The captains have been on the team for four years, and we feel really good in our roles. We feel like everyone on our team wants to work hard and improve, so I think that has some really promising things for us in the future.”
Naturally, with a younger crop of players, Prescott and the coaching team plan to get everyone as much experience as they can. But outside of simply having younger girls, the team also is shifting in the types of players coming off the bench.
“Another shift for us is that we’ve always been guard-heavy, and for the first time ever we have more forwards, which is just a new style of play that we have to get used to. But it’s good,” said Prescott.
Taylor agreed, saying the Islanders will be playing a different game this season, compared to years past, with new names and styles filling roles on the court. Mercer Island gains some size as well, with Christina Williamson returning, along with a few younger players who are also hitting the 6-foot mark.
As the program has progressed over the last several seasons, the reality in the Mercer Island gyms is that players are going to have to keep becoming better to play on a team that continues to get better.
“We have a lot of freshman playing this year, two varsity, several JV, and I think at each level we’re more competitive this year, especially at the JV and C team level,” said Prescott. “We’re more competitive than we’ve been before, just because of the talent of the number of players.”
The captains are pleased with the fact the younger players seem to have the expectation to win and work hard to get there, something that wasn’t always the case when they first started their high school careers.
“I think it’s great that the younger kids are coming, expecting that the expectation is to win,” said captain Hailey Gullstad. “That’s really key. I think that as the program goes on, it’s only going to get stronger. I’ve always been the team person, so I just want to be able to help my team, really leave a mark on the program; we’ve been doing better every year. So I just want to help the team.”
For the third captain, Jae Shin, it has been a journey that she isn’t quite ready to give up just yet.
“I always tell people that I’m not ready to be a senior,” said Shin. “I always want to be a part of this program; always work with these girls.”
While the team hadn’t specifically set goals yet for the season, it’s a good bet the idea of making the state tournament again will be on the list. Especially if as Gullstad saw in the jamboree the team continues to adjust and realize were they have room for improvement.
“I felt like in the jamboree we were able to clean up a lot of things,” she said. “If we’re able to do that all season, clean up mistakes, we’re going to be able to do well.”
As the team prepares for league games this winter, they have the countdown to this week’s Bellevue match in mind, as well as those games against Liberty, Mount Si and Lake Washington, all expected to big opponents this season. The captains though were ready to avenge losses in last years postseason, specifically those against Holy Names and Cleveland.
To make those post season matches a possibility Prescott reminds them of what it will take to get there.
“Communication, ball movement, staying injury free,” said Prescott of what will make the season successful.
The Islanders will host their second home game of the season tonight against Sammamish at 7:30 p.m. and will host Bellevue Friday night at 7:30 p.m.