Sports Beat: Peninsula girls basketball looking for another league title
The reigning South Sound Conference champion Peninsula Seahawks girls basketball team (2-0) opened the season with a 50-36 win victory over Central Kitsap on Dec. 4.
The Seahawk defense swarmed the Cougars and forced multiple turnovers that led to fast break points in the early-season showdown between South Sound Conference powers. The Peninsula defense was back at it the very next night in a 56-35 win at Bainbridge Island.
Last year, Peninsula took a magical carpet ride to an 18-5 record and a league title before making a state tournament appearance for first-year coach Hannah Lekson. In this early season preview we will take a look at the talented players who are aiming for back-to-back conference titles and a return trip to state.
We start with senior guard Kaylia Heidelberg, a 5-foot-7 playmaker and long-range shooter who averaged 18 points per game and was named first-team all-SSC last year.
Heidelberg is a three-point shooter who can light it up but is also capable of getting tough buckets in traffic. She can put the ball on the floor to finish the break or play in a half-court set. She’s also a crafty passer who isn’t afraid to put the work in on the defensive end, as evidenced by her seven-steal performance against Central Kitsap.
Heidelberg will be counted on to produce points while the Seahawks ease in a few new starters. Against the Cougars, Heidelberg shook off a cold-shooting first half but kept her foot on the pedal like confident scorers do. She earned a few offensive rebound put-backs and transition buckets before burying a couple long-range bombs in the second half on her way to 21 points and nine rebounds.
She was productive against the Spartans as well, burying four three-pointers in a 21-point, six-rebound performance while committing only one turnover.
Junior guard Grace Richardson is the other part of the Seahawks’ dynamic duo. She was also an all-conference performer last year after averaging 15 points per game. The 5-foot-9 Richardson is a open-court player who is super creative with the ball in her hands. She is capable of providing several “did you see that move?” moments per game.
Against the Cougars, she scored 16 points and hauled down 13 rebounds with seven steals. She used a plethora of crossovers, up fakes and hesitation dribbles that left the Cougars looking for weakside help.
She also plays with an infectious enthusiasm. Richardson turned in the play of the night against Central Kitsap, grabbing a rebound and racing down court with a lone defender back. She drew the defense and threw a behind-the-back pass to a teammate for a layup before pointing to her ear as the Seahawk student section respond loudly.
Richardson did a little bit of everything against Bainbridge, tallying 11 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, five steals and four blocked shots. She probably sold popcorn at halftime, too.
Lekson and the team got an early Christmas present in the form of 5-foot-11 senior forward Irene Segura, an exchange student from Spain. Segura collected eight rebounds and four steals for the Seahawks versus Central Kitsap.
She also came up big in the fourth quarter to stymie a Cougar rally. Segura secured a tough offensive rebound that led to a bucket, then she scored and got fouled on the next possession. On defense, she intercepted a pass in the final two minutes to seal the victory.
Daisy Peay, the team’s 5-foot-4 senior point guard and a returning starter, has a little snarl in her game. She provides capable ball handling with a low dribble and looks to facilitate the Seahawks offense by finding Richardson and Heidelberg for open shots. The Seahawks will count on her when their team is pressed or needs a defensive stop.
The fifth starting spot is still open, according to Lekson. Junior guard Maci Miller got the nod versus the Cougars. She stays in front of defenders with quick feet and good court awareness. She came up with several steals against the Cougars and wasn’t afraid of an errant elbow as she tied up rebounders for held balls that resulted in Seahawk possessions. She was hot against the Spartans the following night, knocking down four of five shots and finishing with 11 points after hitting three 3-pointers.
Miller’s competition for the starting spot comes from 5-foot-4 junior guard Brooke Kaufholtz, who provided instant offense when she got on the court against Central Kitsap. She scored a quick five points in the first half that included a nifty steal and breakaway basket. She also shows the ability to drive to the middle of the paint and kick out to Heidelberg for open jump shots.
The Seahawks played a tight seven person rotation versus the Cougars in a game that coach Lekson had to have to begin conference play. The seventh person in was 5-foot-7 freshman Olivia Mercado, who flashed some court quickness and hustle in the second half. She and a classmate, 5-foot-9 Olivia Furer, look to be big contributors to the Seahawks’ future.
The Seahawks don’t have a lot of size and may need some help when they face a bigger team. At 5-foot-11, Audrey Walker may be a player Lekson leans on to protect the paint and grab rebounds. The squad is rounded out by senior forward Jillian Bunch and sophomore Julia Warfield, both 5-foot-8.
Lekson said the team’s goal is “to improve every single day and to take this season one day at a time. We know we have a target on our back after winning a league championship so we were focused on showing up to each game and playing better than the last game before it. We want to be absolutely relentless, in all we do. We are fighting for back-to-back league championships.”
Lekson is assisted by Nelson Garbutt and Kait Stoltenberg.
The Seahawks will be challenged to defend their conference crown by North Thurston, Yelm, Gig Harbor and the always tough Timberline Blazers.
Peninsula boys start off cold
The Peninsula boys basketball team (1-2) had a rough start, dropping games against Bainbridge Island (61-44) on Nov. 29 and at Olympia (63-28) on Dec. 2. The Seahawks bounced back to open South Sound Conference play with a win at Central Kitsap, 58-41, on Wednesday, Dec. 6.
Second-year coach Sean Muilenburg’s team had few answers against Olympia. The Bears jumped out to a 14-0 lead after one quarter. Peninsula continued to hustle but just couldn’t get shots to fall consistently against Olympia’s switching defense.
The Seahawks lost their leading scorer from last year’s team when guard Isaiah Brown transferred. Peninsula finished 8-11 and sixth in the South Sound Conference last season.
They use a trapping and pressing defense to force turnovers and create transition buckets. The Seahawks are an experienced group with six seniors who will all play significant minutes during the season.
Reece Redal led his team in scoring versus Bainbridge with 12 points and the 6-foot-1 shooter cashed in a couple of deep threes against Olympia as well.
“Redal can shoot the ball and returns with much improved athleticism and has developed a consistency that the Seahawks can count on, on both ends of the court,” Muilenburg said.
Will Whiteley-Ross, an athletic, 6-foot-2 senior power forward, can rise and snare rebounds. He has a nice overall floor game, a solid jump shot and always bring passion to the court.
He had 10 points versus Bainbridge and will be counted on for some inside buckets and perimeter scoring. He has been hampered by a knee injury suffered in summer league, but chose to play out his senior year with a knee brace that restricts his movement.
“Tough kid, he wants to play with it and his family supports him,” Muilenburg said. “He is one of the best leaders at PHS and that’s not just on the basketball team.”
Cole Muilenburg is a 6-foot-5 center who looks to provide interior scoring and be a rebounding presence for the Seahawks. He is fresh off of the gridiron and may take a while to find his shooting touch but should use his physicality to collect rebounds early in the season. He provided seven rebounds, two points and two blocked shots versus Olympia while defending the opposing center.
His father describes Cole as “having a tremendous basketball IQ and the Seahawks will need his leadership on and off the court this season. He will need to shoulder the load on offense and defense, being an inside presence in both scoring and rebounding.”
Gavin Sheets is a 6-foot senior guard and two-time returning letterman. He is also one of the PHS baseball team’s best pitchers.
Muilenburg describes the athletic senior as someone who “facilitates the offense and shoots the ball well. Gavin had a terrific fall, returning from injury to his knee last season. He will be counted on to make a significant impact for the Seahawks this season.” Sheets made some nice moves versus Olympia and will provide steady ball handling, a capable outside shot and will probably be as calm under fire as he was on the pitchers mound last season.
Rounding out the starting five will be junior Isaac Schultz-Tait, a 6-foot-3 athletic left-hander. He had a couple of driving finger roll layups versus Olympia. “He can get to the basket and score over bigger defenders and has also developed a consistent outside shot. He will be asked to defend the other team’s best offensive player on most nights,” Muilenburg said.
The Seahawks have an intriguing player coming off the bench in 5-foot-11 sophomore guard Troy Arnold, who showed explosiveness to the hoop against Olympia. Muilenburg said: “Troy may emerge as one of the Seahawks’ top scorers as he develops his PG facilitating skills this season. He has an attacking mindset that will drive the Seahawks offense in big scoring spurts.”
Carson Zimmerman is a 6-foot junior point guard who is “emerging as one of the Seahawks’ top point guards who has the poise and court awareness needed to facilitate the offense as well as being a great leader on and off the court. He will be counted on,” Muilenburg said.
The Peninsula coach lists senior guards Luke Lipsey and Joaquin Jackson together, saying “both guards will be factors in the upcoming season with shooting and running the Seahawk offense and both will be needed to really step up and make an impact.” Lipsey is a talented athlete who has proven himself as a creative scorer while Jackson is lightning quick, probably the Seahawks’ best ball handler and one of their top three-point threats.
Wyatt Abrigo is a 6-foot-2 power forward who starred as a linebacker on the football team. Muilenburg said of Abrigo: “he will be counted on as a defensive stopper that gives Schultz-Tait a rest this season, and he will provide good rebounding as well for the Seahawks.”
Rounding out the squad for Peninsula will be two freshmen, Brendan Taylor and Aidan Muilenburg. The coach described Taylor as “a gamer who has a consistent shot that is exciting to watch.” He said Muilenburg has “tremendous quickness and will be a key contributor this season. He is another long body to defend and score as he adjusts to the high school varsity level of play.”
‘Energy and effort’
Against Olympia, the Seahawk offense emphasized exterior passing and ball cuts to try to free up cutters and perimeter shooters. On defense they will look to apply full court pressure when they feel they have a mismatch and will fall back into a man to man or a combination of zone defenses.
Muilenburg provided the big picture view and goals for the season: “Whatever the outcomes (win or lose), we want our play to look the same, with our energy and effort. Defensively we are better this year already and we are going to continue to build and get better within our rotations and efficiency. Our offense will need to have a more intentional focus this year. You will see multiple individual, double digit scoring nights from a variety of players. Ultimately how quick we can learn to focus on our offensive execution and learning to read and react within it will be the determining factor in the outcomes of our games and the season.”
The Seahawks will look to compete with top South Sound Conference contenders Gig Harbor, Timberline and North Thurston.
Peninsula hosts Capital at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8.
Wrestling teams open with wins
The Peninsula (1-0) and Gig Harbor (1-0) wrestling teams opened their South Sound Conference seasons with blowout wins on Thursday, Dec. 7. The Seahawks beat Capital 55-5 in Olympia, while The Tides defeated River Ridge, 50-20, in Lacey.
Both teams return some very solid wrestlers who have conference champion and state tournament aspirations. The Seahawks are coached by Gary Griffin, who has built a solid wrestling program that regularly produces state-caliber wrestlers. Gig Harbor’s Blake Moser is a young coach who has the Tides going in the right direction with a fine roster of talented competitors.
We will take a more in-depth look at both teams next week.
Peninsula will be back on the mats Saturday, Dec. 9, in a nine-team tournament at Arlington High School. Gig Harbor will be back in action Dec. 14 at Central Kitsap.
Tides win a different Fish Bowl
Both local girls bowling teams had their first of two matches against each other on Dec. 7 at the Tides’ home alley, Tower Lanes in Tacoma. The Seahawks are coached by Kristy Witcher, while the Tides are led by coach Lillian Amrine.
Both teams entered the match with 1-2 records in conference play and tied for fourth place in the SSC. The Tides emerged with a 4-1 victory, knocking down 1,721 pins to the Seahawks’ 1,430 pins.
Rachel Hileman rolled games of 162 and 167 for a 329 total for Gig Harbor. Peninsula’s ace was Ashley Richards, who bowled a 143 and a 163 for a two-game total of 306. The two teams will face each other in a rematch at Hi-Joy Bowl in Port Orchard on Jan. 16.