Pure euphoria was on display following the biggest victory in the history of the Mercer Island High School girls basketball program.
The Islanders attained its first ever state championship in program history, earning a 52-47 victory against the Bishop Blanchet Braves in the Class 3A state championship game on March 4 at the Tacoma Dome. The Islanders displayed poise and moxie down the stretch to seal a victory. With 22.3 seconds left in regulation, Islanders’ junior Claire Mansfield sunk two free throws, extending her team’s lead to 50-47. With just five seconds left in the game Mansfield came up with a huge steal. Mansfield dribbled around the backcourt in an attempt to run out the clock but was fouled with 1.8 seconds to go. Mansfield then calmly knocked down two free throws to put the game away. Mercer Island senior post player Anna Luce, who finished with a team-high 21 points, was confident Mansfield would capitalize on her opportunity at the free-throw line.
“Claire is so poised and has such a great head on her shoulders. We knew she would make it. There was no pressure, it is just something you do every single day. It is the same free throw,” Luce said.
Mercer Island senior guard Kailee Yan said Mansfield’s steal in the closing moments of the game was a pivotal play.
“Claire was fantastic today. On that defensive play we knew we didn’t want to give up a three (3-pointer) and we did not want to foul. We were closing out and scrambling. Everybody was running and trying to change the trajectory of their shots but Claire did a great job of anticipating and securing the ball,” Yan said of Mansfield.
The Islanders trailed the Braves 23-18 at halftime. In the locker room Islanders’ head coach Gillian d’Hondt told her players to leave absolutely everything on the floor.
“At halftime, Gillian said there is nothing to lose. We have 16 more minutes in our whole entire season,” Luce said.
The Islanders embraced d’Hondt’s advice and started the third quarter on a 11-0 run, taking a 29-23 lead with 5:43 left in the quarter. By the end of the third period, the Islanders had a 36-33 lead. In the final eight minutes, Yan rose to the occasion for the third consecutive game in a row. Yan hit a long jumper with 1:34 left in regulation, giving the Islanders a 45-43 lead. With 49 seconds to go, Yan nailed a three-pointer extending the lead to 48-43. Yan, who was just 2-for-9 from the field in the first half, was confident her shot would fall as the game progressed.
“For me this was the biggest game I have ever played in my life. I was a little bit off at the beginning and wasn’t really hitting my threes but in like all of these other games Anna (Luce), Jessie (Stenberg) Josie (Blakeslee) and Claire (Mansfield) were all encouraging me to keep shooting because they know I can come up with those shots,” Yan said.
d’Hondt said Yan is fearless on the court despite her lack of size.
“Kailee showed this whole tournament that she is not scared of anybody. Nobody can guard her one-on-one and she knows it. She understands that we have Anna but Kailee is honestly our other main scorer. I don’t even have to tell her, she just takes over. When the clock is running down she wants the ball. She is not scared. She is the smallest player out there but has the biggest heart and plays the biggest,” d’Hondt said.
Stenberg concurred with d’Hondt’s assessment.
“Kailee is an amazing basketball player. She never gives up. She works so hard and it shows on the court,” Stenberg said.
Luce said her team was thrilled to be the first state champion in the history of the Mercer Island High School girls basketball program.
“It is surreal. It is amazing to be here. I’m just so proud of all of our hard work that we put in. It all paid off. It is just so fun to be part of it with this group. It is something memorable and is something people will look forward to trying to do again,” Luce said.
Stenberg said winning a title was a dream come true.
“I don’t know how to describe it. You see other people winning state and you wish that we could do that someday and then you do it. It is just unbelievable,” she said.
d’Hondt, who is an alumnus of Bishop Blanchet, said her team’s drive was the difference in the run to the championship.
“They are so smart on and off the court. They will take adjustments and they will just believe in it. We put in new plays today and we ran them. It is really all about the girls, they just bought in. That motivation comes from within. They just wanted it and worked so hard. It paid off,” d’Hondt said.