STORY & PHOTOS BY GLENN NELSON
TACOMA, March 9 - Coaches being a paranoid and worrisome breed as it is, imagine all the squirming and pondering taking place among the heads of the 4A semifinalists all day Friday. After all, what would you fear most among the final four's choice of poisons?
You got the Killer Bs - Angie Bjorklund and Heather Bowman - two kids with national reputations who rose up and performed end-of-game rescue operations for their teams. You got the Fun Bunch, the giggly group at Auburn Riverside that faces the media together and puts on each other's earrings after every game and is aiming to play follow-the-leader to the title game. And then you have the program in Prairie that essentially holds the lease on this tournament by now, it has won it or placed in it so many years in a row.
2. Lewis & Clark
For our money, we'd base our fear on a single quarter, rather a single shot, and anyone who witnessed that quarter would agree that ours was an entirely rational fear. We're talking about the third quarter between Prairie and Woodinville that resembled Sherman's rip-roaring march on Atlanta. Woodinville had gone into the intermission with a 29-25 lead and, before the Eastside's Falcons could wipe the halftime sleep from their eyes, they trailed 49-31, the victim of a 22-2 rampage that served as a prelude to a 73-56 defeat.
The blitz featured Jamie Gelhar's hands living in the passing lanes, her and sensational sophomore backcourt mate Ashley Corral running out on Woodinville turnovers, transforming plodding Prairie into high-school showtime. There also was the 1-1-3 zone, featuring the aforementioned two wreaking havoc out top with the great wall of suburban Vancouver holding down the fort inside. It not only flummoxed Woodinville's guards-galore offense, it pressed the pause button on LeeAnn Palo's dynasty killing forays into the lane.
"It was special," Prairie's self-acclaimed, perpetually grumpy coach, Al Aldridge, said of the eight-minute pounding.
Liz Horiatis of Woodinville & Katie
Madison of Prairie
To disagree would have amounted to sacrilege in the House of Aldrige, aka the Tacoma Dome, home to four Prairie championships and two runners-up finishes since 1994.
"Unless Angie Bjorklund can single-handedly bring home the trophy," Woodinville coach Steve Segadelli said, "I can't see how Prairie doesn't win it all."
Speaking of Bjorklund, and the possibility of sacrilege, we offer up The Shot. Actually, it's The Shot Part II. We'll get to Part I a little later.
What happened to the deserving Kentwood Conquerors was tantamount to the last scene in Carrie, when during a halcyon moment the hand ripped up out of the grave. Deigning to send the nation's No. 1-3 junior (depending on whom you talk to) to the consolation bracket, Kentwood coach Keith Hennig cooked up a diamond-and-one defense that Bjorklund and her coach, Mark Stinson, would later say is the best ever implemented against the University superstar. The night after she plowed through the Bellarmine Prep defense with the greatest of ease, Bjorklund suffered a drought lasting 15 minutes, 22 seconds between field goals against the upset-minded Conks.
Meanwhile, recently minted South Puget Sound League MVP Courney Vandersloot, the talk of the tournament, especially among college coaches and scouts, did her best Bjorklund impersonation, drilling threes, penetrating the University defense at will and tossing dimes. She helped pin four fouls on Bjorklund and finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds and six assists and provided the foundation, along with the diamond-and-one, on which upsets usually are built. And, to wit, the Conks led by eight, after Kelsey Jenkins and precocious freshman Lindsey Moore delivered consecutive threes 2 1/2 minutes into the final period.
But, like the demon that was not quite slayed, Bjorklund spearheaded what at the time seemed like an unlikely comeback by the Titans. And then, a possession after things seemed so bad for her that she actually shot an airball, Bjorklund sprung free from a Kentwood defender who hesitated just a split second too long on her closeout, took a cross-court pass from Tonya Schnibbe on a fade cut and delivered a catch-and-shoot three-pointer with 15 seconds to play.
University's Angie Bjorklund gets
a hand on a shot by Beth Johnson
"It's hard to keep a great player down for 32 minutes," a wistful Hennig said. "She had just an ounce of daylight and it was enough. Not too many girls in the state can make that shot."
"Oh my gosh," Bjorklund said.
Oh my gosh, indeed.
"She's so good," Segadelli said of Bjorklund, "she ought to forego her senior year."
The rest of the state wishes, not the least of which, come about 8:30 p.m. on Friday night, will be Aldridge, who doesn't quite have the personnel to stage a copy-cat performance. Kentwood was able to pull it off because, being a team of guards, it had the speed to close out on the shooters on another team of guards. That's not Prairie. However, the "beep-beep-beep" you'll hear echoing in the Taco-dome will be the sound of Prairie trucks backing into the lane against smaller University defenders all Friday night. We cannot imagine University coming close to defending Katie Madison, and Co., down low.
It's the same sense, actually, we have about Auburn Riverside and its daunting task of using its one biggie to defend Lewis and Clark's two.
We hate to say this because we fear "call me Roger Doger, Grin-and Barrett," father of Riverside coach Adam Barrett, is going to jump us again, and this time not to shake our hands, brag on his son and declare, "You know what they need? Anti-heart-attack pills."
Mr. Grin-And is correct on that count. Riverside has done its Pauline-in-peril routine so many times this season, the latest being a 50-46 win over Eisenhower, that coach Adam Barrett actually is beginning to think it's a good thing. Then again, it's hard to wish on yourself winning by having your post, Stephanie Wilber, hit a three-pointer with 3:03 left, then Nneka Payne making a backdoor cut on a sideline out-of-bounds play and your leader, Julie Futch, improvising and throwing the pass to her for a deal-sealing layup with 9.4 seconds to play.
Cassie Robbins of Eisenhower
Still, the anti-heart-attack-pill prescriptions must first go to fans of Lewis and Clark, who braved 15 lead changes during a marvelously played high-school girl's basketball game against Lincoln, one of the strong, pre-tournament favorites. Then, after all the shouting, the foul trouble by Lincoln mega-star Alex Montgomery, and the five three-pointers off the bench for Lewis and Clark, it came down to 53-53 with 19.8 seconds to play and the ball belonging to the Tigers.
Believing Lincoln would deny the ball to Bowman, Lewis and Clark coach Jim Redmon called a play for shooter Lyndi Seidensticker, who had two of the Tiger threes off the bench. Seidensticker started too early and, almost out of desperation, the ball was imbounded to Bowman. Someone on the Lewis and Clark bench yelled "take her," and Bowman didn't need much more convincing, so she backed Lincoln's Samantha Tinned down to the left block and, instead of turning righton her trademark turnaround jumper, went left and stuck the dagger with 6.3 seconds left.
Now Lewis and Clark is back in the semifinals, where last year the Tigers lost to team-of-destiny Garfield.
Samantha Tinned of Lincoln traps
a Lewis & Clark player inside
"It's kind of a second chance," said Bowman who, like Bjorklund, had badly missed her previous field-goal attempt.
A second chance is what Auburn Riverside Julie Futch gets as well. She promised her teammates that she would take them to the 4A championship game (to play, of course). Trouble is, she first made the pledge last year, when Riverside made the tournament but failed to place.
"That's true," Futch said, smiling. "But this year we have each other's backs."
Surrounding her, the Fun Bunch had reinserted their earrings and were nodding in sincere agreement. And it's hard to argue against blood oathes, kismet or star power. On Friday night, you can pick your poison and it will be correct to fear everything, including fear itself.
Our Complete 2006 State 4A Tournament Coverage Menu:
4A Tournament Gallery
Dozens of images from one of the most competitive State 4A tournaments in years, starting from the championship game and moving back to the beginning.
Elite 11: Tigers Roar
Lewis and Clark had the best combination of size, guard play, defense and coaching in the state this season.
A 4A Family Affair
Katelan Redmon's timely but unexpected 22 points help land a state championship for her and her uncle, Lewis and Clark coach Jim Redmon.
4A Tournament Recap
MVP, all-tournament team with profiles and comments, all scores and statistical leaders.
Practice Makes ... Third
Dara Zack practiced for the moment and came through for University, earning the Titans their highest finish at State.
'Desperation Mode' for Ike
After a quarterfinal loss, Eisenhower tossed all inhibitions aside, and plotted a course to fourth place.
Block Party for T-Birds
Mount Tahoma's unorthodox, frantic style, led by Shauniece Samms' shot-blocking, powered the T-Birds through the consolation bracket for a fifth-place finish.
Big and Defensive
Lewis & Clark and Prairie reach the State 4A championship game with great size and defense.
Stock on the Rise
The Kentwood junior has been the talk of the State 4A tournament and a hit with college coaches and scouts.
Pick Your Poison
There is so much to fear from the four 4A semifinalists, it's difficult to choose which to fear most.
Remember the Titans
When considering the candidates for 2006's darlings of destiny, Angie Bjorklund and University stand out from the pack.
Wednesday 4A Photos
Images from furious first-round action at the Tacoma Dome.
The Wolfpack is Back
One amazing youth basketball team helped produce three of the region's top young point guards, plus the core of the Jackson High School team that qualified for the State 4A
tournament for the first time in its history.
4A Bracket Breakdown
How we see the tournament unfolding, round by round and game by game, to a University vs. Auburn Riverside final featuring stars Angie Bjorklund and Julie Futch.
Elite Eleven: You Go, Girls
Three women - Joyce Walker, Penny Gienger and Kathy Gibson - enjoyed outstanding, role-setting seasons in girl's high-school basketball..
State 4A Team Capsules
Essential information on tournament participants, with power rankings by HoopGurlz.com (not predicted finish). Individual team capsules also can be accessed by clicking team
name from front-page list of qualifiers.
Know where all the seniors are headed after the tournament. We have the most complete list anywhere of Division I commitments by players from Washington and Oregon.
Glenn Nelson is the publisher of HoopGurlz.com and the editor-in-chief of Scout Media (www.Scout.com), an online sports network and magazine-publishing company and subsidiary of Fox Interactive Media. Glenn also founded and coached
the Dragons and Northwest HoopGurlz select girls basketball teams. He previously was a longtime, national-award-winning basketball columnist and writer for The Seattle
Times. His work also has appeared in several national magazines and books. He is co-author of "Rising Stars: The Ten Best Players in the NBA" (Rosen Publishing, 2002).