WRHS BASKETBALL: White River returns to state

Riding high on a three-game, postseason winning streak, the White River High girls will now see what they can do against the best in the state.

The Hornets are one of 16 Class 3A teams still standing and all gather today, Wednesday, for the opening round of the state tournament in the Tacoma Dome. The four-day, double-elimination affair wraps up Saturday night.

White River, regular season champion of the South Puget Sound League 3A, enters state play with an overall record of 20-5. Twenty-win seasons have become the norm for the Hornet girls, who are making their 10th state tournament appearance during the 13-year reign of coach Chris Gibson.

By contrast, the Hornets’ opening-round opponent, Cleveland High of Seattle’s Metro League, is making its first state appearance since 1979.

White River and Cleveland will battle in opening day’s final contest, scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

Gibson said his team’s track record should provide an advantage.

“If kids have been there before, it makes a difference,” he said. “Experience helps.”

First-day jitters are often evident as players get wrapped up in the state tournament experience and adjust to the expansive Tacoma Dome.

Most of Gibson’s current roster played in the Dome last year and three Hornets – Megan McKune, Kelsi Tyler and Carly McCutchen – will be playing in the state tournament for the third time.

Gibson said Hornet followers won’t see many changes in the way his troops prepare.

“You have to believe in the principles that got you there,” he said during a Sunday night break from watching film. “You can’t make wholesale changes.”

That doesn’t mean Gibson ignores the opponent, however.

“A lot of adjustments are made on the defensive side of the floor,” he said. “You tweak some matchups based on who you’re playing.”

Against Cleveland, the Hornets face a quick, athletic team that likes to apply full-court pressure.

The Eagles are led by the sister tandem of Cheyenne and Whitney Wilson. Cheyenne Wilson is a 5-foot-11 junior who averages nearly 18 points per game; she scored in double figures in all but one game. Sister Whitney Wilson is a 6-foot senior who averages almost 12 points per outing. Shacolby Jenkins, a 5-10 senior, averages more than 12 points a night.

The Eagles enter tournament play on quite a roll, having won four of five postseason games. Cleveland’s only postseason loss was to Holy Names, the No. 1-ranked team in the state and, along with Kennedy Catholic, an early favorite to capture the Class 3A title.

The Hornets also have put together a pretty fair resume in recent games.

After falling to Kennedy in the SPSL 3A/Seamount crossover series and then losing to Prairie High in the district opener, White River has rattled off three straight wins. In a winner-to-state, loser-out contest, the Hornets slipped past Auburn Mountainview 51-45. Things got progressively easier, as White River beat Capital High 69-47 Friday night and blasted Yelm 62-33 Saturday, at one point leading by 35 points.

“We’ve put together two very good basketball games,” Gibson said, “and we’re playing well at the right time.

White River sidebar…

If the Hornets win their state tournament opener against Cleveland, they will play at 8:30 p.m. Thursday against the winner of a Wednesday battle between the Lakes Lancers (18-7) and Shorecrest High (17-7). If the Hornets fall in their opener, Thursday’s contest would be at 2 p.m. against the Lakes/Shorecrest loser.

Other first-round pairing are:

Lynnwood (14-12) vs. Prairie (18-6)

Yelm (18-7) vs. Holy Names (22-2)

Capital (17-8) vs. Shadle Park (16-9)

Seattle Prep (16-9) vs. Bonney Lake (19-5)

Mount Rainier (18-6) vs. Mercer Island (20-5)

East Valley-Spokane (9-17) vs. Kennedy Catholic (21-3)

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