Photo courtesy of Gillian d’Hondt The Mercer Island Islanders girls basketball team defeated Horizon Christian Academy 59-33 on the final day of the Nike Tournament of Champions on Dec. 22 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Islanders hit 10 3-pointers in the victory. Mercer Island currently has an overall record of 6-3.

Islanders compete against top caliber opponents at Arizona tourney

The Mercer Island girls basketball team may have put together a 1-3 record at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix from Dec. 19-Dec. 22, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of Islanders’ head coach Gillian d’Hondt.

The Islanders, who suffered losses to the Cactus Shadows, St. Anthony’s (Long Beach) and Horizon, earned their only win of the tournament with a convincing 59-33 victory against Horizon Christian Academy (San Diego) on the final day of the tourney on Dec. 22. Islanders’ point guard Kailee Yan had a game-high 17 points in the victory. Josie Blakeslee added 15 points as well. Mercer Island improved their overall record to 6-3 with the win.

“We came out of the gates strong and didn’t ever look back. It was a much-needed win,” d’Hondt said.

The Islanders got the victory against Horizon Christian Academy despite missing its top scorer Anna Luce due to an illness. Luce, who is the Islanders’ main post player, will play college basketball at Dartmouth College during the 2017-18 season.

“We were without Anna. She was really sick. Everybody stepped up and we shot really well from the three-point line in that game,” d’Hondt said.

The Islanders went 10-for-21 from beyond the arc against Horizon Christian. Yan was in the zone from the perimeter, nailing five 3-pointers in the win.

The coach believes her team gained valuable experience competing against formidable squads on the West Coast at the Arizona holiday tournament.

“That is exactly what we went down there for. It served its purpose. It was a much more physical game,” d’Hondt said. “The refs allowed the guards to ride the ball-handlers from coast to coast (up and down the court). There wasn’t a lot of calls so that was good. We don’t have a lot of athletic and physical teams in KingCo (league) that we play. That is why we play in the Rainier Beach fall league so we can play against the Metro teams. It prepares us for the district tournament. I think it (Phoenix tournament) definitely toughened us up and showed us what we need to work on.”

The biggest victory of the season to date during the 2016-17 season came against the Bellevue Wolverines on Dec. 12. The Islanders’ 67-44 victory snapped Bellevue’s 31-game winning streak. D’Hondt said Luce broke the 1,000-point barrier in the win against the Wolverines.

The second week of January was a memorable week for Luce.

“Anna scored 94 points in three games. She always comes ready to play,” she said. “Anna is definitely a leader on and off the court.”

The Islanders will host the Liberty Patriots at 7:15 p.m. on Jan. 4 at Mercer Island High School.

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