Girls basketball 2009-10 season preview: Federal Way enters as favorite

Federal Way junior post Talia Walton is one of numerous returners for the Eagles this season. Walton helped Federal Way finish third at the 2009 state tournament. The Eagles entered this season as the top-ranked Class 4A team in many polls.  - Mirror file photo
Federal Way junior post Talia Walton is one of numerous returners for the Eagles this season. Walton helped Federal Way finish third at the 2009 state tournament. The Eagles entered this season as the top-ranked Class 4A team in many polls.
— image credit: Mirror file photo

The Federal Way Eagles girls basketball team surprised a lot of people, including themselves, when they hoisted the third-place trophy at last year’s Class 4A State Basketball Tournament.

Federal Way basically played only one senior, and a bulk of their lineup was made up of freshmen and sophomores. Those underclassmen are all back this year after a 24-6 finish last season.

But the Eagles aren’t going to surprise anybody this year, that’s for sure. Federal Way and head coach Danny Graham are getting some big-time attention and respect from all over the state during the early season. A bulk of the preseason rankings have the Eagles tagged as the No. 1 team in Class 4A and the favorites to win the ultra-rugged South Puget Sound League North Division.

Last season, the nine-team North Division produced three of the top four placers at the state tournament. Kentwood won the 4A title and Auburn Riverside finished in fourth place. The same three teams should battle for the top spot in the North again this season.

Leading the list of returners are 6-foot-1 Talia Walton, 6-0 Tyshana Burgess, point guard Chantel Dixon, sophomore guard Darah Huertas-Vining and 6-foot junior Jaleecia Roland. And that’s not even counting first-team, All-SPSL North guard Brittany Barrington. The junior tore the ACL in her knee last spring. It’s still up in the air when Barrington will be able to play later in the season. Graham said it might be as soon as next month. She averaged 11 points and eight rebounds a game last season.

Walton will be one of the most highly-recruited players next year after averaging eight points and 11.2 rebounds a game. Burgess was the Eagles’ leading scorer a season ago at 14.1 points and also averaged 10.7 rebounds, and Dixon was Federal Way’s best defender. Huertas-Vining had an impressive freshman campaign, averaging eight points a game and getting several key minutes during the state tournament. Also returning for the Eagles are senior Molly Campbell, who saw some playing time last year.

The Eagles should also get some help from a pair of newcomers — Dyesha Belhumeur and Tanji Ajeto. Belhumeur, a sophomore, has been in double figures in both of the Eagles’ non-league wins this year. Belhumeur finished with 11 points in a win over Rogers and led Federal Way with 18 during Monday’s 69-51 victory over Cleveland.

Federal Way hosts defending state champion Kentwood Tuesday night in a huge early-season battle.

Jefferson Raiders

The Raiders were one game away from returning to the Class 4A Girls State Tournament for the first time since 2003 last season. But Jefferson was beaten by the South Kitsap Wolves in a loser-out district game.

The Raiders and head coach Jerry Krueger return three starters from last year’s squad that finished fourth in the very rugged SPSL North Division, which produced three of the top four placers at the state tournament in Kentwood, Federal Way and Auburn Riverside.

Back for Jefferson are guards Hannah Kiyohara and Karen Carpenter and forward Unique Taufa’asau. The threesome helped the Raiders finish 16-8 on the season.

The 5-foot-8 Kiyohara has been an all-league selection in each of the past two seasons. Last year, she averaged 12.1 points and four rebounds a game. Kiyohara scored more than 20 points three times, including a 32-point outburst in a win over Kent-Meridian in December and back-to-back 25- and 24-point efforts against Kentwood and Federal Way, the top two teams in the SPSL.

Taufa’asau earned honorable mention All-SPSL honors after averaging 10 points. The senior scored in double figures 11 times last season.

Carpenter will continue to fill the point guard position and get the ball to Kiyohara and Taufa’asau. The senior averaged about two points a game last year.

Krueger will also be counting on newcomers like freshman Jada Piper and sophomore Christy Kullberg. Piper finished with 14 points in their season-opening win over Beamer, and Kullberg had eight.

Beamer Titans

The Titans finished last season with just a 3-16 record. But the record is pretty deceiving because Beamer was in pretty much every game.

The Titans were only blown out three times during their 16 losses, including twice by the SPSL South-champion Graham-Kapowsin Eagles and by top-ranked Federal Way.

Beamer returns a lot of talent from a season ago, including senior Mercedes Sullivan and junior Shyla Akins.

Sullivan, a 5-foot-6 guard, averaged 7.4 points a season ago, including a season-high 21 during a win over Curtis. She also scored in double figures six times.

Akins, who averaged seven points last year, proved that she is going to be a force to be reckoned with this year after scoring 28 points in the Titans’ season opener against Jefferson Monday.

Beamer will also be one of the bigger teams in the SPSL South this season. Second-year coach Heather Sugg will feature three players 6 feet or taller in senior Taylor Winton (6-foot-1), sophomore Meghan Graf (6-foot) and junior Rebekah Young (6-foot-1).

Winton, who scored three points a game last year, has already signed a national letter of intent to play catcher at Marshall University in West Virginia, and Graf averaged close to seven points last year. Winton finished with a team-high nine points during Beamer’s win over Stadium Wednesday.

Also returning for the Titans are juniors Katy Bixenman and Codie Obungen and senior Jessika Sutcliff.

Decatur Gators

The Gators made quite a turnaround last season. Just a year after finishing 0-16 in the South Puget Sound League South Division, Decatur was one game away from qualifying for the West Central District Tournament during the 2008-09 season.

The Gators finished an even 8-8 in the South, which left them in a tie for the fifth and final berth into the postseason with Bethel. But the Braves beat Decatur in both of their regular season meetings.

The Gators will be doing it with a lot of new faces this season. Gone are Decatur’s five leading scorers from a year ago, including point guard Sarah Quantz, who averaged 10.7 points and is currently playing at Tacoma Community College.

Decatur does, however, return several players who saw significant playing time a season ago, including junior Kayla Lipston and sophomores A’yesia Rogers and Abby McFaul. Rogers led the Gators with 12 points in their season-opening loss to Mount Rainier Wednesday and Lipston chipped in seven.

Newcomers Denisha Green, Mik’kell Frier, Lindsey Dickinson and Lorena Lopez should also provide some depth for Decatur.



Federal Way Eagles

Coach: Danny Graham (fourth season)

Last year’s record: 24-6 (second in SPSL North, third in state)

Key returners: Sr. Molly Campbell, 5-9; Jr. Chantel Dixon, 5-5, 5 points, 2 steals; Jr. Talia Walton, 6-1, 9 points, 11 rebounds; Jr. Tyshana Burgess, 5-11, 14 points, 10 rebounds; Jr. Jaleecia Roland, 6-0; Soph. Darah Huertas-Vining, 5-3, 8 points; Jr. Brittany Barrington, 5-6, 11 points, 8 rebounds (currently injured).

Strong newcomers: Fr. Tangi Ajeto; Soph. Dyesha Belhumuer.

Jefferson Raiders

Coach: Jerry Krueger (seventh season)

Last year’s record: 16-8 (fourth in SPSL North)

Key returners: Sr. Hannah Kiyohara, 5-8, 12.1 points; Sr. Unique Taufa’asau, 5-9, 10 points; Sr. Karen Carpenter, 5-3, .

Strong newcomers: Soph. Christy Kullberg, 5-8; Fr. Jada Piper, 5-9.

Beamer Titans

Coach: Heather Sugg (second season)

Last year’s record: 3-16 overall (seventh in the SPSL South)

Key returners: Jr. Shyla Akins, 5-1, 6.9 points; Jr. Katy Bixenman, 5-10, 1.2 points; Codie Obungen, 5-1, 1.1 points; Sr. Mercedes Sullivan, 5-6, 7.4 points; Sr. Taylor Winton, 6-1, 2.9 points; Soph. Meghan Graf, 6-0, 6.7 points.

Strong newcomers: Soph. TreAuna Culp, 5-5; Jr. Rebekah Young, 6-1.

Decatur Gators

Coach: Kevin Rawie

Last year’s record: 9-11 overall (sixth in the SPSL South)

Key returners: Soph. A’yesia Rogers, 5-9, 2.4 points; Jr. Kayla Lipston, 5-9, 3.5 points; Soph. Abby McFaul, 5-6, 3.4 points.

Strong newcomers: Denisha Green, Mik’kell Frier, Lindsey Dickinson and Lorena Lopez.

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