When the All-Mid-Columbia Conference teams were released last week, there was little mystery as to which team would sweep the top girls awards.
The Kamiakin Braves led the league in scoring (67 points per game) and defense (46.1 points) during the regular season, and only played one conference game with a single-digit margin of victory as they steamrolled to a 14-0 league record and their first MCC crown.
A couple weeks later they beat North Central and Mt. Spokane to claim their third consecutive MCC-GSL 3A playoff championship. The No. 7 Braves (21-1) host No. 10 Garfield (17-8) at 4 p.m. Tuesday in a loser-out glue-crossover game, with the winner advancing to regionals.
In case you missed it, here were the individual conference awards the Braves netted for their remarkable regular season:
▪ A year removed from becoming the first freshman to be named to an All-MCC first team, sophomore guard Oumou Toure was named the conference’s player of the year. She scored a career best 33 points in the sub-regional championship game against Mt. Spokane to push her season average to 22.4, and she’s averaging about 11 rebounds, three steals and a block per game.
▪ Toure also earned co-Defensive Player of the Year honors, along with teammate and fellow sophomore guard Alexa Hazel, who is averaging just shy of two steals and two deflections to go along with her 14 points. The pair also earned first team all-conference honors, with sophomore forward Symone Brown being named to the second team.
▪ Fifth-year coach Lane Schumacher earned the first conference Coach of the Year nod of his career. “I’m proud of the girls, and it’s a testament to them that we were able to get some of these awards,” Schumacher said.
Toure was the second member of her family to be named a player of the year while at Kamiakin, as her sister Khadidja, now a junior at East Carolina University, was the Columbia Basin Big Nine 3A Player of the year in 2011 and 2012.
Oumou Toure enters Tuesday’s crossover game with 911 career points, 504 of which have come this season.
What makes Toure, and the Braves as a whole, so prolific on offense is the success they have with their pressure defense. Hazel and fellow sophomore guard Rylie Clark use their speed to close out on and double team opposing guards in the back court, and the 6-foot Toure uses her long arms to disrupt passing lanes and force turnovers.
“We play really scrappy, which is good for us because we’re not the biggest team so we have to play scrappy, we have to get after ball,” said Toure. “We’ve done a really good job of it this year.”
Opponents rarely have a comfortable possession when they play Kamiakin.
“Some people don’t like defense; I love it. I have so much fun,” Hazel said. “I’m up there, I’ve got a smile on my face, I’m like flying around, and it’s a rewarding part of the game. When you get a stop ... defense drives your offense.”
But the Braves’ pressure and speed will be put to the test against Garfield, a team that also likes to run and gun, and cause havoc defensively.
“They’re not really big, but they’re extremely quick,” Schumacher said. “And they’ve got some guards that can get to the basket, so we’ll have to stop the dribble penetration if we wanna have any success against them.
“I think it helps that we’re used to the up-tempo style, and we’ve got a little bit of a height advantage on them if we’re not bringing the ball down, because they’re good at stripping it if you’re not strong with it.”
The matchup certainly isn’t an easy one after all the Braves have accomplished this season, but most of the players wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I am pumped,” Hazel said. “They look like a solid team. We get our home court, and it’ll be our last home game of the season, which I’m excited about. They’re a solid team; we’re gonna have to show up, but it will be a good game.”
Because of their high RPI ranking, a victory on Tuesday would guarantee the Braves a spot in next week’s state tournament at the Tacoma Dome, regardless of their result at regionals. It would be the seventh consecutive regional appearance for Kamiakin and second straight trip to Tacoma.
The Braves took fifth in state last year — tied for their second best finish since 1997 — without a single senior on the roster. They’re still young — Kiley Larson, Kendyl Holle and Payten Wishman are the seniors this year — and have a lot great basketball left ahead of them. But the Braves have their sights set pretty high for this campaign.
“Last year was a good experience, but now we’re not just here to experience it,” Toure said. “We’re here to do something and prove that we’re more than just a young team that got lucky the first year.”
“Is it cliche to say a state title?” Hazel said of the team’s ultimate goal. “Obviously that’s in the back of everyone’s mind — we want that state title, but a little bit smaller goals are everyone showing up, everyone playing as a team. Playing at that level we know we’re capable of, and honestly just doing better than last year.
“Getting fifth place was so much fun, but now it’s time to take a step up, show the improvement and grow as a team.”
If Kamiakin wins, it will play No. 2 Gig Harbor in regionals at 2 p.m. Saturday at Puyallup High School. The winner gets a bye to the state quarterfinals on March 2, the loser plays in the round of 12 on March 1.
Mt. Spokane, Kamiakin’s opponent in the sub-regional championship, plays on the road against Rainier Beach at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the other girls glue-crossover game.
KAMIAKIN BOYS VS. BELLEVUE
Following the girls game, the Kamiakin boys will host No. 25 Bellevue (18-7) at 6 p.m. in further glue-crossover action.
The No. 22 Braves (19-3) last took the court Friday when they stamped out a dangerous Shadle Park team 66-59 to win their first sub-regional title. If Kamiakin gets into regionals, it will take the No. 15 seed and play No. 10 Shorecrest at 4 p.m. Saturday at Bothell High School in a loser-out game with the winner advancing to the round of 12.
Eastside Catholic will host Shadle Park at 6 p.m. in the other boys glue crossover.