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Issaquah last won a state-tournament game in 2003, when it beat Mercer Island in the semifinals before losing the final to Rainier Beach. On Thursday, the Eagles find themselves back in the state tournament for the first time since 2005.

Issaquah’s welcome-back present? A daunting top half of the bracket that created a buzz after the draw and left many shaking their heads in amazement.

The other three teams all spent the majority of the season ranked in the top three in the state. Jackson occupied the top spot for the first five weeks until its lone loss dropped it to No. 2. Garfield took over as No. 1 and hasn’t let go of the spot. Kentridge was ranked No. 3 for six consecutive weeks.

“It’s tough, that’s why they call it a draw,” Issaquah coach Jason Griffith said.

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Jackson coach Steve Johnson admitted his initial reaction was, “Whoa, that’s kinda top-heavy,” but he, along with Griffith, both made it clear that those type of thoughts were quickly gone.

“Then you get in preparation and everybody’s good,” Johnson said. “We’ve got plenty to worry about with Issaquah on Thursday.”

Issaquah has held its own against the top teams in the state and gave Garfield its only loss of the season. The Eagles won’t feel like they’re facing a daunting task when they take the court against last year’s state runner-up on Thursday at 5:30 pm.

In fact, Griffith believes it could help Issaquah by bringing more energy and focus than if it were to be facing a newcomer it wasn’t familiar with. The fact that Jackson is a very similar team in many facets also adds an interesting layer to the matchup.

“We look at them on film and we kind of feel like we’re watching ourselves at times,” Griffith said. “Their kids play within themselves, our kids play within ourselves. Our role players understand their roles, same with Jackson.”

Of course, Jackson hopes there is one large intangible that will be the deciding difference between the two teams.

“Sounds kind of arrogant to say normalcy … I wouldn’t want to give that tone, but the fact that we’ve been there before, I hope works in our favor,” Johnson said. “Experience is often a valuable thing.”

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