Any time two Federal Way schools battle on the basketball court, high-intensity play is due to follow. The boys and girls games delivered passionate play that basketball fans of any age enjoy.
Decatur and Todd Beamer high schools split the varsity doubleheader Dec. 1 with the Gator girls winning the opening game 58-12.
Both sides have first year head coaches looking to establish their own philosophies and styles to their teams. Mo Anderson took over the Decatur program after Elon Langston departed the head coaching office. The Gators last season were on the cusp of the state tournament for the first time since 2019.
“They’re really trying to be disciplined. We really talked about playing against tougher teams, and being disciplined is important. So we’re trying to instill that early. They worked well together tonight,” Anderson said.
Kellis Deck is in her first season coaching the Titans, taking over after Corey Alexander departed from Todd Beamer. Deck played basketball at the University of Redlands before coaching at Pacific Lutheran University.
It’s been a difficult road for the Titans and Deck in her first two games as head coach. A 61-5 loss started the season on a sour note, and the Gators kept the sour taste in the mouth of Titans fans and players.
In fairness, Decatur just looked better. Flying around on defense and drilling threes on offense spells for a blowout of the 40 point variety. The visiting side also left a lot of points off the board, which gives Anderson some hope on how deadly this team can be.
Mo Anderson talked about having that ferocious defensive mentality and give teams a headache as they bring the ball across half court. The Gators suffocated the Titan offense, allowing 10 of the 12 points to come via the free throw line. Jane Wanjiku was the only Titan to score in the first quarter, and it took seven minutes for the Titans to get on the scoreboard.
“We’re following our old coach Elon. We’re known for our defense. I think teams are a little bit nervous playing us on the defensive side. So I’m just trying to keep that going,” Anderson said.
Jane Wanjiku had six first half points, all free throws. Josie Esquibel made the only Todd Beamer field goal, with a layup in the fourth quarter.
Decatur lost three critical pieces to its offense in Jewel Young, Mandi Pham and Lani McConville, who all graduated this past year. There was a lot of excitement and eagerness from the Decatur side that didn’t have a lot of varsity experience.
“I think everybody was nervous. It was our first game, and for a lot of us, it was our first varsity game. The more we play, the more shots are going to fall,” Teniah Armstead said.
“I was so nervous,” Armstead said after her varsity debut. “I kind of just zoned in on the court, nothing else was out there,” she said.
Fans couldn’t tell that it was Armstead’s first varsity game. Coming out of halftime, Armstead drilled a trio of three-pointers and Jayda Thomas had six points, jolting the Gators to a 37 point difference going into the fourth quarter.
“We shot really well tonight,” Armstead said. Making shots from distance opens the court up for a team that doesn’t have a player over 5’10”.
“We’re a shorter team. So when we play bigger teams we can use that (three-point shooting) as an advantage,” Armstead said.
“Three-point shooting isn’t so much a focus, but just being more confident and telling them to be more confident,” Anderson said.
Decatur senior Kaira Creary led the way with 16, and sophomore Leilah Mulivai-Tobin had 15 for the Gators in the win.
On the boys side, Todd Beamer continued its unbeaten season with a convincing 87-65 win over Decatur. It was a sloppy physical game on both sides:.
Decatur alum and Todd Beamer Head Coach Brent Brilhante was left a bit unsatisfied after the 22 point 87-65 win over his alma mater.
“You could have called a foul on every possession… Tonight was kind of like a ‘Let’s get out of here with a win and practice so we can get better,’” Beamer head coach Brent Brilhante said. “I wouldn’t say anything worked really well. It was a work in progress. It’s a totally new group, defensively they were playing hard, the effort was there. That’s the biggest thing.”
The Titans scored the first nine points of the game against Decatur and led 17-5 at one point in the first quarter. Ahmed Ismail had nine points in the opening quarter, which helped the Titans put up 28 points in the first.
“He’s got to be our guy this year. He’s a big strong kid that can finish around the rim,” Brilhante said.
Last season, Ismail “didn’t even look at the basket. He’s just been a role player and he thrives in his role. But now we need another scorer,” his coach said.
It took Decatur one half to put up 28 points — the Titans’ offense is for real and a real threat in the NPSL.
The third quarter saw Decatur creep back in the game. With 5:17 left in the quarter, Decatur got to within ten, 52-42. The Gators couldn’t find a way to get any closer than ten, but Dom Simpson was able to slow the game down and get some points for the Titans, ending the game with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
The fourth quarter was the Caleb Berry show. On his way to a game high of 29, Berry dropped nine points in the fourth quarter.
“He’s becoming a better (player). He’s scoring at different levels, he’s doing a good job. He’s going to get the best guys guarding him,” Brilhante said.
Three notable players were not on the floor for the Titans. Jahlil Loyd, Will Tellis and Keanu Earnest did not play for Brilhante. Loyd will not be back in the Titans blue and green after moving back to Arizona. Earnest broke his wrist against Graham-Kapowsin this season. His timetable is unknown. But Tellis will be back this season.
“He’ll (Tellis) will be back. Loyd moved back to Arizona and I’m happy for him. Keanu is a tough one because he’s such a coach on the court. He’s now trying to fill a role as a coach on the bench, but we’d rather have him on the floor. Those six feet are hard to fill,” Brilhante said.
Todd Beamer has a big test on Dec. 8, taking on the Auburn Trojans, who are two years removed from a state title and placed fifth last season.
“We need to guard, we need to rebound physically. We need to be the most physical rebounding team in our league to be successful,” Brilhante said.