Lake Washington and Juanita’s girls basketball players are getting used to seeing each other on the court.
The Kangs defeated their crosstown rival Rebels twice in 2A/3A KingCo matchups this season and they are set to face off again in the 3A KingCo Tournament championship game at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 11 at Sammamish High. Both teams are guaranteed spots to the SeaKing District Tournament, which tips of on Feb. 15.
LW won the KingCo regular-season title with an 11-1 record and stands at 16-4 overall after defeating the Rebels, 63-44, on Feb. 7. Juanita notched an 8-4 KingCo record and holds a 13-7 overall mark.
“Their experience from last year is huge, obviously, we’re bringing back eight out of 10,” said LW head coach Jeff Wilson, adding that his squad has brought a solid effort to the court each time and is unwilling to give up. “We knew were gonna be able to be competitive in every game, but we’ve never been looking ahead.”
Big-time contributions have come from Elise Hani, a sophomore 6-foot-4 forward, who has averaged 15 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks a game; sophomore guard Rosa Smith, who has averaged 11 points, seven assists and seven steals per game; and junior 5-10 guard Sophia Liesse, who has averaged 11 points per game. Senior guard Jen Estes unleashes quickness on offense and defense and freshman 6-foot forward Sydney Hani blocks, scores and rebounds like her older sister.
Wilson praised the Hani sisters for aggressively going after balls: “They give our team a level of physicality that goes down to our guards. They set the tone.”
Speaking of guards, Smith — the team’s “engine,” Wilson said — jumped into a vital leadership role and is lighting up the stat sheet. At press time, she had amassed more than 500 career points, 200 career rebounds and assists and 150 career steals at LW.
Smith said that the Kangs’ chemistry is at an all-time high as they focus on one play and one game at a time.
“I think we’ve just been getting better every day, just coming to practice as a team and it helps so much that we have so many returners,” she said. “We all love basketball, we love to be here, and obviously the crowd is awesome. Every game means everything to us.”
On the Juanita side, first-year head coach Azuma Bearden has got a fast team on his hands. The Rebels are shooting strong and showing tons of composure this season.
“They’ve been really buying into my new system and they’re working hard all year and they’ve been putting themselves in this position to play LW in the KingCo championship,” he said.
Leading the way have been senior guard/wing Chelsea Hill, who has averaged more than 16 points over the last five contests; freshman forward/wing Joy Haltom, who scored 10 points in the Feb. 7 LW contest and has notched four double-doubles; senior forward/post Julia Ryan, a hard worker and rebounder who tallied nine points on Feb. 7; and energetic junior standout guards Kayla Huff and Emma Languein, who are the “motors” of the squad, according to Bearden.
“I love the team. The bond we have is so close and we have a lot of fun when we play against teams and really meld well together,” Hill said. “We’re a fast team and we’re a fast learning team.”
In her third year on varsity, Hill added that she’s learned to get the job done each time out.
“If you do something, do it to your best ability and go hard. Go hard or go home,” she said. “Every time we play a team in KingCo, we get better each time and we learn new lessons about how we can work on our game as a team.”