Talk about getting to the Class 1A state tournament the hard way.
The Meridian girls basketball team started the post-season with a losing record, played eight playoff games in 12 days, and had to win four loser-out games.
Because they did all of the above, the 15th-seeded Trojans (15-13) are in the regional round of the Class 1A state tournament and will play 10th-seed Okanogan (16-6) on Saturday, Feb. 29, at 2 p.m. at Wenatchee High School. And, of course, it’s another loser-out game.
“We’re happy to be here,” said Meridian coach Mark Gilmore. “We get to take a bus ride, and we’re used to that. We’re the road warriors. They buy into that and say, ‘Let’s go play.’”
Making the Trojans’ accomplishments even more impressive is the youth of the team.
Junior guard Madeline Bowler is the only non-sophomore starter, and along with starting guard Finnley Claeys and starting post Skyleigh James brings experience after the trio playing key roles on last year’s state team.
“We’re young as a team, but we’re starting to mature,” said Gilmore. “We can still be inconsistent. But the attitude and energy level is great, and hopefully we can build on that.”
Once again, the Trojans will be the underdogs on Saturday, at least according to the state’s RPI ranking. Okanogan has a solid team — “They aren’t going to hurt themselves,” said Gilmore — and finished second out of District 6 behind top-ranked Cashmere.
Of course, the Bulldogs haven’t played nearly as many good teams as Meridian, which has the third toughest strength of schedule among 1A teams, according to the WIAA rankings.
“They play solid defense, they don’t have any superstars, and if you allow them, they’ll hang around,” said Gilmore of the Bulldogs. “We have to play our game, do the things we do well, and hopefully, we can take care of business.”
If the Trojans do take care of business, they will advance to the state tournament in Yakima’s SunDome. They will play the loser of the regional contest between Lynden Christian and Annie Wright on Wednesday, March 4, at 5:30 p.m. And if the Trojans lose, their season is done.
State seeding: #15, No.4 seed out of Bi-District 1/2
Starters: Madeline Bowler, G, Jr., 5-9; Kayla Aalpoel, G, So., 5-8; Finnley Claeys, G, So., 5-9; Ellie DeWaard, G, So., 5-11; Skyleigh James, P, So., 5-10.
Reserves: Maris Baklund, G, Fr., 5-5; Brynn Neal, G, Jr., 5-9; Amanda Schleimer, G, Sr., 5-9; Emilee Swanson, G, Fr., 5-5; Kadance Blankers, G, So., 5-4; Avery Neal, G, So., 5-11.
CLASS 1A STATE TOURNAMENT
Friday, Feb. 28
#2 Lynden Christian vs. #7 Annie Wright, 8 p.m., at Mount Vernon
#4 Freeman vs. #5 La Salle, 8 p.m., at West Valley (Spokane)
Saturday, Feb. 29
#3 Warden vs. #6 King’s, noon, Big Bend CC in Moses Lake
#11 Seattle Academy vs. #14 Montesano, noon, at Issaquah
#12 Elma vs. #13 Deer Park, noon, at Tumwater
#10 Okanogan vs. #10 Meridian, 2 p.m., at Wenatchee
#9 Zillah vs. #16 Cascade Christian, 4 p.m., at Davis HS in Yakima
#1 Cashmere vs. #8 Nooksack Valley, 6 p.m., at Wenatchee