Don’t tell the Lake Washington Kangaroos they are early to the party.
The Kangaroos girls might still be ultra-young, but they feel like they belong in the Tacoma Dome this week for the Class 3A state high school basketball tournament.
“I’ve been thinking about this for so long, I don’t want to wait,” sophomore guard Rosa Smith said. “It’s that thing where we are happy to be there, but we believe we can upset some big teams. We’re just extremely competitive. We have that underdog mentality.”
Lake Washington is an underdog, really.
The sixth-seeded Kangaroos went into their regional game against No. 3 Arlington on Saturday knowing the team already had clinched its first berth to the state tournament since 2014. A 56-32 defeat in that regional round just changed the path a bit.
Lake Washington (19-6) will open state play Wednesday at 3:45 p.m. in a loser-out game against Hudson’s Bay (18-7) and high-scoring junior Jaydia Martin (21.1 points a game). Get by that one, and the Kangaroos face a daunting task.
“Mt. Spokane (18-3), who I personally believe has been the best team in the state this season,” third-year Lake Washington coach Jeff Wilson said last week. “But that’s why we’re so looking forward to next week. We feel like we’ve just been flying under the radar all year. We hope we can show that out next week.”
If Lake Washington has been a bit overlooked, it’s understandable why.
Three years ago, when Wilson took over the program, the Kangaroos won just two games (2-18). A year ago, Lake Washington rode a terrific group of freshmen and underclassmen to the program’s first league and district titles since 1995.
But the team fell three points short of a trip to the Tacoma Dome in a 38-35 regional defeat against Snohomish. The Kangaroos repeated those league and district victories this season. The group they bring to Tacoma is a conglomeration of athletic prowess.
Smith and junior Sophia Liesse are the “basketball” players. Smith has her sights set on playing collegiately.
Senior Jen Estes will play college soccer at Princeton next fall after leading the Kangaroos to a Class 3A state title last fall.
“We brought back basically our entire group from last year,” Wilson said. “Then we added our 6-4 sophomore and her freshman sister, who also is 6 foot.”
The sophomore, Elise Hani, is an all-state volleyball player who happens to play a little basketball in her spare time.
“I don’t know how she keeps it all balanced,” Smith said. “I’ve played with her since the fifth grade (on select teams). She’s just incredible. It’s so reassuring for us to have her behind us defensively. And she’s also just a great leader.”
Hani contributes across the stat sheet, averaging 13 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.8 blocks a game. Sister Sydney Hani recently contributed a career-high 19 points in a playoff defeat against Garfield
Before two playoff defeats, Lake Washington had lost just once to a Class 3A team all season. Other than a 47-46 setback against Sammamish, the Kangaroos’ only defeats were to three Class 4A playoff teams — and Woodinville and Issaquah both made it to the state tournament this week.
“We have to schedule those tough nonconference games,” Wilson said. “Our league has maybe been a little down recently. So we just don’t get the credit.”
Wilson said he thinks his team can open some eyes starting Wednesday.
“We think we definitely can guard and play with anybody,” Wilson said. “I really like our defense. It’s what we’ve hung our hats on all year. It’ll just be whether we can get enough offense. But it’s definitely been a crazy three years, going from last place to winning the league the last two years.”
Now, it’s time to take the next step.
Five things to watch
Can anyone beat Eastside Catholic?: The Crusaders are one of two Class 3A teams with just a single defeat and the only one that hasn’t lost in the state this season. The Crusaders are 25-1 and have a first-round bye.
Is this Bethel’s year?: The No. 2 seed to Eastside Catholic is the other Class 3A squad with just a single defeat. The Braves (23-1) went through the regular season unbeaten before suffering an upset loss to Lincoln during the West Central District tournament.
Will the seeding hold up?: The Class 3A girls stayed true to form during regionals, with the top four seeds each winning to earn the first-round byes. That means Mt. Spokane, Eastside Catholic, Arlington and Bethel all get to wait and watch the first-round loser-out games Wednesday.
What about Mt. Spokane?: The Wildcats lost the title game a year ago to Eastlake, and are back, led by 6-foot senior Jayda Noble, a University of Washington commit. Mt. Spokane is riding a 13-game winning streak coming into the Tacoma Dome.
Does Hudson’s Bay have a run in the works?: The Eagles (20-7) are led by a pair of juniors: Jaydia Martin leads the Eagles at 21.1 points and 10.3 rebounds a game and Kamelai Powell adds 13.8 points and 10.2 rebounds.