South Whidbey girls basketball hasn’t had a problem reaching the postseason the past two years.
Winning at the class 1A Bi-District tournament — the road to state — has been a different story.
The Falcons narrowly lost to the Northwest Conference’s Meridian and Mount Baker in the bi-district tournament in 2017, capping a 10-12 season. Though Mount Baker was one of the top ranked teams in the state, the Falcons gave the Mountaineers a run for their money despite ailing from a slew of injuries and sickness prior to the playoffs. Their performance was promising, but the Falcons are seeking more this time around.
“I definitely want to progress,” senior Kolby Heggenes said. “I would like to keep going for sure.”
The Falcons will try to shake the proverbial monkey off their back this year with a mix of veterans and newcomers. South Whidbey lost six seniors to graduation, whom played a part in the team’s previous success.
Senior Mikayla Hezel anticipates there will be growing pains in the early part of the season as the team tries to find its rhythm.
“It’s going to take us a few games to get into it,” Hezel said. “Our offseason, we’ve all been so incredibly busy with our other sports that we just haven’t had the time to focus on basketball. But, it will come. It will click.”
Hezel is one of four seniors on the squad, the others being Ally Lynch, Mackenzee Collins and Heggenes. There are only six total upperclassmen on the team, meaning several younger players will be asked to step into varsity action.
Hezel, Heggenes and Collins said it’s bittersweet knowing this year is their last. Their experiences on the court trace all the way back to recreation basketball in second grade.
“We’re just really comfortable around each other and it’s just really fun,” Heggenes said. “But, it’s also ending.”
Their bonds on and off the court will also give the team’s leaders more leeway to hold the players accountable and maintain a high standard, with the understanding that any criticism isn’t to be taken personally, Collins said.
“We all respect each other enough to know that when someone says that, it’s not because they’re mad at you,” Collins said.
They’re also comfortable with their new head coach, Jeff Hanson. Hanson replaced Andy Davis, who stepped down as the Falcons’ head coach after seven seasons at the helm. The seniors said they’re thankful for the continuity Hanson provides and his familiarity with the girls’ strengths and weaknesses.
“He knows us well and he knows how we play,” Hezel said. “At practice, we work hard, but we have fun while we’re doing it.”
Collins added that Hanson doesn’t shy away from holding players accountable and gives constructive criticism.
“He knows that you did not make it (a mistake) on purpose,” Collins said. “He shows you how to fix it.”
Two of the departed seniors, point guards Kacie Hanson and Megan Drake, were consistent scorers for the Falcons. The Falcons’ offense should change slightly this year in terms of its variety in scoring as a result.
Collins said the Falcons relied on finesse scoring from their point guards last season, but expects the burden will shift to herself and fellow post, Lexi Starets-Foote. Collins and Starets-Foote are both over 6 feet tall and not afraid to scrum for rebounds and tough shots underneath the hoop.
“We’re really working hard to learn this position,” Collins said. “…It’s going to make it a lot easier to penetrate the middle and get balls inside, whether it’s scoring down low or kicking it out for a three. I think that will help a lot.”