BASKETBALL: Loser-out state tournament openers await Eagle boys, girls and Decatur boys

Federal Way sophomore Brayon Blake (4) blocks the shot of a Beamer player during the Eagles
Federal Way sophomore Brayon Blake (4) blocks the shot of a Beamer player during the Eagles' win at the West Central District Tournament. Federal Way will take on Jackson at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24, at Kent-Meridian High School.
— image credit: Casey Olson/The Mirror

It’s state tournament time on the basketball court for the Federal Way High School boys and girls, along with the Decatur boys.

But, like last year, the tournament will have a different look in 2012.

After a couple of decades hosting 16-team, four-day tournaments at places like the Tacoma Dome and KeyArena, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) voted last year to change things up. The governing body kept the 16-team format, but switched first-round games to “regional” sites, which were mostly high schools, and cut the “state tournament” to three days at the Tacoma Dome.

The four, four-team regionals will feed eight teams to the Tacoma Dome for the 2012 Hardwood Classic Tournament, which will be held March 1-3. The format change was a result of dwindling attendance, especially for the consolation-round games.

“The state tournament should not be played in high school gyms,” said Decatur head coach Kevin Olson, who has guided the Gators to six-straight state tournaments. “No offense to Jackson High School, which is a great site, but the state tournament should be at the Tacoma Dome or KeyArena or at UW or the Sun Dome or etc.”

Olson’s Decatur squad will open the 3A tournament against Mountlake Terrace at 8 p.m. at Jackson High Friday, Feb. 24. The Federal Way boys open the 4A state tournament at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24, at Kent-Meridian High School against the Jackson Wolves and the Eagles girls will take on Stanwood at 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at Auburn High.

Unlike last year, which was the first in the new format, this weekend’s first-round games are winner-to-Tacoma, loser-out contests. Last year, the top-eight seeds got two shots at qualifying for Tacoma during the regional round of state.

And that’s where the season ended for the 2011 edition of the Gators. Decatur didn’t make it to the Tacoma Dome after being knocked out in the regional round — meaning the players didn’t get to experience playing inside the massive Tacoma Dome despite “making” the state tournament.

“Last year we played at (Bellevue College), which is also a nice venue,” Olson said. “But it does not have the feel of the Dome. When you walk into the Dome, you feel the excitement, the bright lights. It’s big time. It’s the state tournament.

“It’s just such an accomplishment and to restrict that to the final eight is so disappointing to the teams that make the round of 16 and lose out.”

Olson understands why the WIAA chose to change the format to a three-day, final-eight format for the Tacoma Dome. But he says there are other ways to go about combating the lack of attendance. He suggests making the opening round single-elimination and held at the Tacoma Dome.

According to Olson, the Washington State Coaches Association has had numerous conversations with the WIAA and is “strongly” for a 16-team tournament being held at the same site and not in favor of the regionals. “The regional format is shorting a lot of teams the real state experience,” Olson said.

Decatur boys vs. Mountlake Terrace

The Gators (18-7) will take on the Northwest District-champion Hawks in their state opener at 8 p.m. at Jackson High School Friday night.

The fifth-ranked Hawks’ lone loss came on Feb. 4 to Shorewood, 55-54. But since the loss, Mountlake Terrace has won all three of its district games in convincing fashion, including a 53-45 win over Glacier Peak in the title game.

“Obviously, Mountlake Terrace is a very good basketball team,” Olson said. “You don’t go 22-1 without being very good. They are well-coached, disciplined, big and very physical. They are defensive minded and we will have our work cut out for us to beat them.”

The Hawks have four players scoring at least nine points a game and are led by guards Blake Fernandez (12.4 points) and Marquis Armstead (11.8).

But the Gators are also led by a pair of talented guards in Dom Hunter and Markus Rawls. The 6-foot Hunter leads Decatur at 20.9 points a game, including 28 in the Gators’ state-clinching win over Prairie at the West Central District Tournament. Hunter has been in double figures in all but one Decatur game this season. Rawls is scoring 14.2 points a game and seems to come up huge in big games. “Everyone will have to contribute, but this is their team,” Olson said. “They need to take us to the Dome.”

After finishing unbeaten in the SPSL 3A Division, Decatur ended up fifth at the West Central District Tournament after back-to-back losses to Wilson and Lincoln.

Federal Way boys vs. Jackson

The opening round matchup between Federal Way and Jackson is a familiar one at the state tournament. The two teams met in a semifinal during the 2010 tournament, with Jackson beating a stacked Eagle team, 53-45. The game featured Division I players Cole Dickerson and Isiah Umipig from Federal Way and Brett Kingma from Jackson.

This year’s game, which will be at 6 p.m. at Kent-Meridian High School on Friday, Feb. 24, doesn’t feature the star power, but both teams enter playing good basketball. The seventh-ranked Wolves (18-5) have won nine in a row, including the WesCo South Division title and the Northwest District championship with a 60-57 win over Snohomish Saturday.

Jackson, who started the season 0-2, is led by super sophomore Jason Todd. The 6-foot-5 forward is averaging 19.4 points and 10 rebounds a game for the Wolves and has been in double figures in all 23 games. Todd is the only Jackson player averaging in double figures.

The young Eagles (16-8) finished sixth in the rugged West Central District, including three wins over teams that had previously beaten them. Federal Way beat Beamer in its opener, before losing to the Narrows League champion Bellarmine Prep Lions, 48-45. But the Eagles came back and downed Kent-Meridian in a winner-to-state, loser-out matchup, 45-38, and beat Union in a seeding game Monday, 53-51.

Kent-Meridian had beaten Federal Way at the SPSL Tournament and Union blew out the Eagles, 66-48, earlier in the season. Beamer downed Federal Way, 53-50, on Feb. 3 in an SPSL South contest.

The Eagles feature a well-balanced lineup, led by three sophomores, a junior and a freshman. The 6-foot-5 sophomore Brayon Blake leads Federal Way at 15.9 points and 10 rebounds a game. Sophomore point guard DeeShawn Tucker is chipping in 11.8 points a game, sophomore Deonte Anderson is scoring 9.7 and junior D’Londo Tucker is averring 9.5 a game. Freshman Malik Montoya is adding 6.4 points for Federal Way.

Federal Way girls vs. Stanwood

The fifth-ranked Eagles face a very tough test in their state opener at 4 p.m. at Auburn High School Saturday night when they take on Stanwood in a loser-out, winner-to-Tacoma contest.

The Spartans (22-2) enter as the seventh-ranked team in the state, but spent most of the season in the top-three. Both of Stanwood’s losses came against top-10 teams in Lake Stevens and Jackson and the Spartans finished as the third seed from the Northwest District Tournament.

The Spartans feature a very balanced and big team. Stanwood has five players averaging more than 8.0 points a game and have eight players who are 5-foot-9 or taller.

Renee Lucero leads the Spartans at 12.2 points a game, Paisley Heckman scores 11.4, Rachel Swartz (9.7), Samantha Kelleigh (9.0) and Tristen Murphy is chipping in 8.1 points.

Federal Way snared the second seed from the West Central District after losing to Mount Rainier in the championship Monday at the ShoWare Center, 60-40.

The Eagles (21-4) are led by 5-foot senior point guard Darah Huertas-Vining, who is scoring 16.0 points a game. Fellow seniors Raven Benton (14.9 points) and Dyesha Belhumeur is chipping in 10.5 points.

Federal Way’s lineup has the state tournament experience advantage Saturday night. Players like Huertas-Vining, Benton and Belhumeur have played in three state tournaments, including second- and third-place finishes.

Stanwood has never played at the Class 4A tournament and last played in state in 1998 as a 3A team. The school’s highest placing at a state tournament is seventh in 1993 and ‘95.

Class 4A Boys State Tournament


Winners to quarterfinals March 1-3 at Tacoma Dome, losers out

At Juanita H.S. (Kirkland)

Issaquah vs. Mount Rainier, 6 p.m.

Kentwood vs. Garfield, 8 p.m.

At Kent-Meridian H.S.

Federal Way vs. Jackson, 6 p.m.

Snohomish vs. Bellarmine Prep, 8 p.m.

At Auburn H.S.

Bothell vs. Olympia, 6 p.m.

Union vs. Curtis, 8 p.m.

At Spokane Falls CC

Richland vs. Central Valley, 6 p.m.

Evergreen (Vancouver) vs. Davis, 8 p.m.

Class 3A Boys State Tournament


Winners to quarterfinals March 1-3 at Tacoma Dome, losers out

At Jackson H.S. (Mill Creek)

Lincoln vs. O’Dea, 6 p.m.

Decatur vs. Mountlake Terrace, 8 p.m.

At Bellevue College

Glacier Peak vs. Rainier Beach, 6 p.m

Mountain View vs. Seattle Prep, 8 p.m.

At Rogers H.S. (Puyallup)

Lake Washington vs. Wilson, 6 p.m.

Mercer Island vs. Kennedy Catholic, 8 p.m.

At Richland H.S.

Kennewick vs. University, 6 p.m.

Foss vs. Kamiakin, 8 p.m.


Class 4A Girls State Tournament


Winners to quarterfinals March 1-3 at Tacoma Dome, losers out

At Juanita H.S. (Kirkland)

Eastlake vs. Rogers (Puyallup), 4 p.m.

Emerald Ridge vs. Woodinville, 6 p.m.

At Kent-Meridian H.S.

Skyview vs. Lake Stevens, 4 p.m.

Jackson vs. Kentwood, 6 p.m.

At Auburn H.S.

Stanwood vs. Federal Way, 4 p.m.

Bethel vs. Mount Rainier, 6 p.m.

At Spokane Falls CC

Central Valley vs. Chiawana, 4 p.m.

Olympia vs. Gonzaga Prep, 6 p.m.

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