GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Federal Way stacked yet again; TJ, Decatur and Beamer rebuilding

Federal Way junior point guard Darah Huertas-Vining hopes to lead the Eagles back to the state tournament for the third season in a row. Huertas-Vining was Federal Way’s leading scorer last season as a sophomore at 14.6 points a game.  - Casey Olson/The Mirror
Federal Way junior point guard Darah Huertas-Vining hopes to lead the Eagles back to the state tournament for the third season in a row. Huertas-Vining was Federal Way’s leading scorer last season as a sophomore at 14.6 points a game.
— image credit: Casey Olson/The Mirror

The Federal Way High School girls basketball program got a break when the principals voted to move the Eagles to the South Puget Sound League South Division last spring.

It meant Federal Way would be out of the rugged SPSL North, which includes Auburn Riverside and Kentwood. Those two schools have combined to win four state championships in the last four seasons, including three by Auburn Riverside.

But this year might be the Eagles’ turn at winning a state title. Federal Way is stacked again this year and has the look of a big-time, state championship contender. The Eagles are looking to head back to the Tacoma Dome for the third year in a row and entered the year as the top-ranked team in some preseason polls.

Federal Way basically returns its entire roster from a squad that also entered last season as the top-ranked team in Washington.

Leading the list of returners is the 6-foot-2 Talia Walton, who signed to play at the University of Washington earlier this month. Walton averaged 12.8 points a game and led the SPSL in rebounding during the regular season by grabbing 11.8 per game. Walton also led the league in blocked shots.

Also back for Federal Way are guards Brittany Barrington (8.5 points, 8.8 rebounds a game), Darah Huertas-Vining (14.6 points, 4 assists) and Dyesha Belhumeur (6.6 points, 7.1 rebounds), along with senior post TyShana Burgess. Burgess was leading the Eagles in scoring at 15.4 a game before academic issues allowed her to only play in eight games.

The Eagles, however, will be without two other big-time players because of injuries. Senior point guard Chantel Dixon tore knee ligaments during the preseason and is out for the year and Jaleecia Roland hasn’t been cleared to play by doctors. Roland, a 6-footer, played in just 11 games last year and was scoring 6.2 points and grabbing 10.4 rebounds a game. Dixon finished the season scoring 6.6 points a game.

Although the Eagles are the clear favorites in the SPSL South, they will still have to deal with other solid teams like Emerald Ridge, Bethel and Rogers, among others.

Jefferson Raiders

The Raiders are coming off a season that saw them miss out on their third straight berth into the West Central District Tournament by just one game. Jefferson finished in sixth-place in the SPSL North Division with a 7-9 league record. The Raiders finished 10-10 overall.

But Jefferson will be without several players from a season ago, including its two leading scorers in Hannah Kiyohara and Unique Taufa’asau.

“This will be a rebuilding year with a lot of young, inexperienced players,” said head coach Jerry Krueger. “We are expecting to compete every night and hope to improve enough throughout the year to challenge for a playoff spot.”

Leading the list of returners for the Raiders is sophomore Jada Piper. During her impressive freshman season, the guard averaged 8.1 points a game, including seven games in double figures.

Also back are juniors Christy Kullberg, Lexi Goranson and Hannah Friedman. Kullberg averaged five points a game as a sophomore.

Jefferson has gotten off to a quick 2-0 start with a non-league win over Graham-Kapowsin and a 38-32 SPSL North victory over Kentridge Friday night. Piper is scoring 14 points a game to lead TJ.

“Our success will be judged by our consistency of effort and our improvement throughout the year,” Krueger said. “The second half of the season will be the key for us. If we improve the way I expect, we will challenge people down the stretch.”

Kentwood and Auburn Riverside look like the class of the SPSL North again this season. Kentwood returns all-league players in Kylie Huerta and Courtney Johnson and the defending state champion Ravens bring back Boston College-bound Kat Cooper and Brooklyn Hinkens.

Beamer Titans

Things are looking up for the Todd Beamer Titans this season. Head coach Heather Sugg returns her two leading scorers from last year in Shyla Akins and Megan Graf.

The Titans finished 1-15 in the SPSL South last season and should improve on that this year.

Akins led Beamer in scoring at 11.1 points a game and also led the Titans in assists and steals. Graf, a 6-footer, finished the 2009-10 season by scoring 8.1 points a game and also grabbed 6.4 rebounds a game.

The twosome combined for 36 points during the Titans’ season-opening 76-60 loss to Emerald Ridge on Friday. Akins finished with 19 and Graf ended up with 17 points. Newcomer Sherie Green was also in double figures with 10 points.

The Titans continue their SPSL South season Thursday against Bethel.

Decatur Gators

The Gators enter their first season in the SPSL 3A Division with a lot of optimism. Last year, Decatur finished just 1-15 in the rugged SPSL South Division, but bring back plenty of talent.

Head coach Kevin Rawie has a group of girls that likes playing defense and rebounding, which will be a strength of the team this season.

The Gators bring back their leading scorer in junior wing A’yesia Rogers, who scored just over six points a game. She also grabbed 4.1 rebounds a game. Also back are seniors Alexis Cole, Takiya Flowers, Kayla Lipston and Stephanie Maxwell. Cole averaged 5.2 points and Lipston, a 6-footer, was Decatur’s leading rebounder at 5.7 a game.

“We will improve on last year’s record and the kids are committed to improving,” Rawie said. “We will be successful if we play together as a team.”

The Gators don’t start their SPSL 3A schedule until early January, playing non-league games during the entire month of December.

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