Hoop Dreams

Cougars senior Samantha Churchill fires a jumper during a recent CK practice. Churchill is part of a sophomore class eager to return to the state tournament.  - Photo by Aaron Managhan
Cougars senior Samantha Churchill fires a jumper during a recent CK practice. Churchill is part of a sophomore class eager to return to the state tournament.
— image credit: Photo by Aaron Managhan

The Central Kitsap Cougars have some unfinished business to attend to.

After making the state tournament as the No. 7 seed out of the West Central District tournament two years ago, the Cougars lost a tough game in last season’s tourney to Mt. Tahoma to prevent them from returning to state. The last time they made state, when this year’s seniors were sophomores, they were quickly sent home, losing two straight.

But all that has just made the Cougars hungrier. And they make no mistake as to their season goals.

“Our seniors have a lot of playoff experience,” coach Denise Baxter said. “They started their sophomore year at state and they’d like to end that way. Playing in the Tacoma Dome in March is where we’d like to be, but we’re going to have to work hard in practice everyday in the gym.”

Baxter is very confident in the ability of her team, which lost just one senior from a squad that went 17-8 (11-3) and took home the Bridge Division title.

“Obviously, when you return lots of kids on the roster, you feel pretty confident,” Baxter said. “But basketball is a funny game, anything can happen. But these kids just keep working hard and working to get better.”

Baxter said her team has done a good job of keeping level-headed, knowing they can’t overlook opponents in what should be a tough Narrows League.

“For our division, Gig Harbor will be tough,” Baxter said. “Port Angeles is always tough. I think Bremerton will be much improved.”

The Cougars should be the team to beat in the Bridge Division. Leading the way for the Cougars is Emily Zygmontowicz, the Cougs star guard that was also the Bridge Division girls soccer co-MVP. Baxter said along with Zygmontowicz, seniors Kaitlin Poppe and Amy Spieker will also have to lead the team.

“Poppe is an outstanding leader,” Baxter said. “And Amy Speiker. Both of them are the first to speak up. They lead by example too. And Emily is not always a vocal leader, but she leads by example too.”

Baxter said that leadership has made each player on the team valuable, even if the numbers aren’t there to back it up.

“It’s something that doesn’t come through in the stats,” Baxter said. “It’s the leadership. The ability to grab a sophomore and say, ‘This is how we do it, this is how you need to do it.’ Our senior leadership is incredible.”

With so much of the team left in tact, CK has turned to defense as the main focus.

“I think from our experiences we know that we have to play better defense,” she said. “Our strength is running the floor. We like to push it in transition. But it’s a fine line. You don’t want to push it up and turn it over.”

Baxter said the team is working on defensive positioning. CK wants to play a tougher brand of man-to-man defense. Baxter also said that this year’s sophomore class will add much needed depth to the defensive unit.

But beyond the game strategies and the dominance of some individual players, Baxter said it will take a full team effort to get CK back to the state tournament.

“Emily, she has a lot of confidence, always plays hard,” Baxter said. “I think people will have a lot of fun watch Megan. She’s extremely tough. She works very hard. But if we only have one or two kids step up, we’re not going to make it. We need all of our kids to step up and we definitely have the ability to make that happen.

“We have all the ingredients there. We just need to make sure we put it all together.”

CK begins the season Tuesday by traveling to Port Angeles for a 7:30 p.m. match. CK beat PA in their lone match-up last season.

A team in transition

The season will be a very different one for for the Olympic Trojans. Jerry Hurd, whose senior laden team last year went just 2-18 (1-13) said that despite losing all but one player with varsity experience, he is confident that Oly will surprise.

“That was pretty much a senior dominated team,” Hurd said. “This year, it’s just the opposite. We are a very young, inexperienced team. That’s kind of our identity. A lot of non-experience. But they’ll play well. I think we’ll surprise a few people.”

Olympic has five seniors on the team, but only Jessica White played on varsity last season. But Hurd said that’s no indication of how the team will play.

“The only girl that has any varsity experience is Jessica White,” Hurd said. “She is a very good athlete. We’re counting on Storm Fanua. She’s one of our important people down inside. These are very good kids that just don’t have experience.”

As a result, Hurd has been taking his team back to the basics. He said the biggest challenge has been trying to work on the fundamentals while mentally preparing them for the start of the season.

“You’ve got to find the balance between Basketball 101 and getting them ready to play games,” he said. “Out of the gate, it’s been pretty much fundamentals. But we’ve got the athletes on our bench defensively. We have to get mileage out of that — utilize our quickness.”

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