After a stellar start — a record number of hopefuls turned out for tryouts, and all were kept for one of the program’s three robust teams — the Bainbridge High School girls varsity basketball squad hit a slump.
A three-game slump, to be precise, which left them looking for a win and, in the words of returning Head Coach Karen Byers, some cohesion.
“We’ve got some new players, we graduated some old players, and we’re just having a hard time gelling,” she said. “My initial impression is we’re just not picking up where we left off last year.”
Where they were was a 9-11 regular season, Byers’s first at the helm. Senior staples Malia Peato, Grace Carson, Marianne Milander, Olivia Weibel graduated out of the program, too, noticeable losses all; perhaps most so on offense.
The Spartans have yet to top 50 points this year.
They were handily bested in their season debut, an away game against Port Angeles (71-44), but have improved noticeably with each outing since.
They were defeated by Bishop Blanchet in their first home game on Dec. 6 (57-45) and then battled through what Byers called a “totally scrappy” game against North Kitsap, also at home, on Dec. 9 (53-45).
“I think more time playing basketball together at a high level will help us,” the coach said.
Before the start of the NK game, the girls got a look at some Spartan sisters of yesteryear who had played at just such a level, as several members of the famed BHS 1999 3A state championship team, including current Viking Head Coach Penny Gienger, who coached those fabled islanders to a 29-0 record, were recognized.
It was, the coach said, a very special moment for the current players.
“One of their goals is to make it to State and that’s a huge goal,” she said. “We were really close to going to Districts last year, by one game, and so I think that for them to see that, and to see how special it was, is a pretty cool thing because they have such big goals, too.”
This year’s aspirational squad is co-captained by its three seniors: Ellie Woolever, Paige Aichele, and returning offensive powerhouse Olivia Wikstrom.
“Fans know them; they’re my three seniors and they’ve been varsity players since they’ve come here,” Byers said. “They’re great leaders. At practice and open gyms, they just take over. They just really are what’s moving our team forward.”
Primarily, though, the roster consists of juniors: Audrey Nelson, Chloe Boeker, Greta Chin, Marina Maguire and Anna Kozlosky.
Several sophomores, too, are varsity players this year: Lauren Yoson, Ana Byers and Grace Colburn.
Only three of this season’s Spartans are at least 6 feet tall, and one of them is the squad’s sole freshman: Finnley Jacobson.
“She’s so strong,” Byers said of the feisty frosh. “Her ability to be coachable is unbelievable, she’s super coachable. She has a great attitude [and] the girls love her.
“The fact that I have three girls listed 6 foot, this may be a one-year thing,” she added, noting the program’s general lack of height.
“It could be a record.”
Reviewing her first season in charge, Byers said she has made some changes to the team’s practice curriculum, which she said are already paying off.
“We don’t have like a specific phrase but we have goals that are posted up in the locker room, individual goals and team goals, and we’re going to hold ourselves accountable to those,” she said. “And that just means that in practice I remind them of that and stop drills if it’s not up to par, then we go back and do it again.
“I am definitely offensive-motivated, and my assistant and JV coach are definitely defense-motivated,” she added. “And I wished last year I would have started putting more of those physical defensive drills earlier in the season in our practice. So we’ve really changed that up, where we have definitely a hard go at some defensive drills.”
Though the Metro landscape remains daunting as ever, Byers said she’s not overly concerned about any one opponent, even the one seemingly gearing up for a big season.
“There have been a lot of transfers into Garfield, but that kind of works out for us better,” she said. “They can all go to one team, that’s fine.”
Despite their struggling start, Byers said she already seems improvement in the Spartans’ play, and she takes a longer view of the season than most fans would expect.
“I definitely have an idea of what I want to come into at the end of the season, where we want to be ranked,” she said. “I would like to see us holding teams to lower numbers every game … and on the other side see our score go up, but it’s not like a set-in-stone, boxes to check.”