Ilwaco’s girls basketball team was supposed to be really good.
After a surprising run to the 2B state semifinals last year, the Fishermen brought back a college-ready forward in Makenzie Kaech, one of the best low-post presences in the state with Madeline Jacobson, and sharpshooting Eliza Bannister.
Paired with plenty of depth, how could they not be good?
And so far the Fishermen have performed as expected, going 22-1 on their way to Pacific 2B League and Southwest District titles. Now the No. 1-ranked Fish will test their mettle against the highest competition in the 2B State Tournament.
They will play a quarterfinal game against the winner of Mabton and Saint George’s at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.
“Being the team to beat is tough because you always have a target on your back,” Jacobson said. “We just take it one day at a time, one game at a time.”
There’s no delusions about how difficult the state tournament can be to maneuver through. Nobody is putting the cart in front of the horse.
It’s all about playing their best every time out, said Bittner, whose team steamrolled La Conner 60-28 in the regional game Saturday. That’s what it takes to be the last team standing.
“Once you get to this level, everybody says you can throw the records out the door,” Bittner said. “I think there’s five or six teams that can beat anybody on any given night.”
For many of the players, though, this will be their last hurrah, their last chance to play organized basketball as a group.
“I feel like there’s a lot more passion this year,” senior guard Eliza Bannister said. “There’s passion every year, but with five seniors there’s more passion because you’ve been working together for five, six or seven years.”
Bannister, Kaech and Jacobson have been playing with or against each other since the fourth grade. They’ve got undeniable talent, but the chemistry of playing together for so long is something they consider the biggest factor in their success.
“I think it translates a lot having played together since we were basically babies,” said Kaech, who plans to sign with Saint Martin’s University in April. “We know what spots behind the arc Eliza likes to shoot the ball. We know how Madeline likes to play the post. We can just flow freely without thinking about it.”
They’ve won lopsided affairs, and they’ve shown they can win close games — victorious in back-to-back one-point contests to win the district crown. But there’s no denying Ilwaco enters Spokane as the Goliath.
“People are going to say we’re the No. 1 team in RPI,” Bittner said. “They might say that. But I don’t think we’re the team to beat. Everyone at this point is really good and anybody can beat anybody.”
A few players echoed Bittner’s caution, but they also echoed his excitement.
“We’re going into it with more confidence, but you have to be on your toes,” Jacobson said. “It was good to take the wins in districts but these are all new teams. They’re all really good.”
RPI says Ilwaco is the best. The eye test, for some, backs that up.
There’s still a question, though, that will be answered over the next several days that the Fishermen seem eager to answer.
Can Ilwaco live up to the hype?