The Mercer Island boys basketball team has high expectations for the young season that they hope will lead them to the Tacoma Dome, but the Islanders are focused on taking the season one step at a time.
“We want to start by winning our regular season conference, we want to win our league tournament and we want to go to the Tacoma Dome for the state tournament,” Mercer Island head coach Gavin Cree said. “We have the highest expectations, but we have to take it one step at a time.”
The Islanders got their season off to a good start with a 62-54 victory on the road over the Issaquah Eagles on Dec. 3. Cree said the team played with grit against a quality opponent.
The Islanders held a narrow 30-28 advantage at halftime thanks to strong play in the paint from 6-foot-9 junior forward David Pickles. In the second half, Mercer Island pulled away, thanks to solid three-point shooting from junior guard Tyler Butson.
Cree said Butson is going to take a big step forward this season in a bigger role for the Islanders.
“He played sparingly for us last year because we had good depth and he was a sophomore,” Cree said. “He worked his butt off in the offseason. He’s also a great defender and a great leader for us.”
After building a 50-41 lead at the end of the third quarter, the Islanders kept the Eagles from closing the gap to secure the 62-54 victory.
The Islanders played improved defense in the second half, something that Cree said he hopes to see continue to get better as the season goes on.
“They came out in the second half and were gritty and started to play some great defense, forcing (Mercer Island) into some tough shots and tough positions,” Cree said. “As to be expected in the early season, it’s chaotic. There are things that you haven’t practiced yet that you run into and situations that you haven’t seen.”
Cree said the intensity of a regular season is not something you can replicate outside of a high school basketball game.
“It’s all a shock to the system,” Cree said. “I think we responded well in the second half and we made shots all game long, our defense suffered a bit in the beginning.”
Offensively, Pickles was unstoppable in the paint for the Islanders, scoring 18 points.
“He was tough to stop in there,” Cree said. “They couldn’t stop him. He missed one or two, but he was tough to stop. You have to play through that when he’s open, it’s important for our guys to recognize that.”
One of the key players for the Islanders this season will be 6-5 senior Adam Parker, who scored seven of his 10 points in the second half.
“He’s a stud payer for us,” Cree said. “(Parker) can do a lot of different things. We need him to score inside and we need him to shoot. He played point guard tonight and he was all over the floor in different positions both on offense and defense.”
The Islanders are returning a handful of players from last year’s rotation, including seniors Lukas Varney (6-2 guard) and Nate Wenzel (6-5 forward). In their season-opening win, the Islanders were without senior guard Nigel Seda, who is normally a starter for the team.
Cree said the team has plenty of talent and depth, which will allow them to play with more pace than they did in the past, which will lead to more possessions.
“We want to try and get great shots and to push the ball up the floor early in the possessions as opposed to walking it and keeping it in one guy’s hand,” Cree said.
Under first-year head coach Lindsey Blaine, the Mercer Island girls basketball team is hoping to hustle and work hard from the first whistle until the last.
The Islanders opened up the season with a 60-14 road loss to the Issaquah Eagles (1-0) on Dec. 4. Blaine said the team is still learning a new system, something that takes time.
“This is the third time they’ve had a new head coach in the last three years,” Blaine said. “So everything that we’re implementing is new, so it’s going to take a lot of repetition, hustle and familiarization with the things that I’m asking of them. It’s going to be a little bit of a learning process.”
Blaine, who was previously a head JV coach and varsity assistant with the Inglemoor girls team, said the Islanders did a good job of playing with heart and determination against a talented opponent.
“They’re working really hard, and putting forward a lot of effort and hard work,” Blaine said. “Coming out against an Issaquah team that is one of the best teams in the state is a really good indicator to show us that we can be moving forward.”
In the loss, the Islanders were led by senior point guard Grace Shaddle, who scored 13 of the team’s 14 points. Blaine said she wants to see other players help contribute more on the offensive side.
“A big part of the game plan is just learning how to run our offense,” Blaine said. “It can’t just be all her. She’s amazing, but we need other people to score and to help her out.”
Two other players that will be able to help contribute offensively are two of their guards, senior Mattie Lee and junior Avery Conder.
In the season opener, the Islanders were without one of their top offensive players, junior power forward Annabelle Gersh.
“(Gersh will) have a bigger role moving forward and we’ll look to her to score a lot of points,” Blaine said.
Last season, Mercer Island finished with a record of 1-19 (1-11) and missed the league tournament. This season, Blaine wants to see the team compete for a spot in the postseason.
“Coming off the year they had last year, I would love for us to make the playoffs and to be in a position at the end of the year where we’re in that conversation,” Blaine said.