When the season started, the Montesano High School girls basketball team was the underdog, now the Lady Bulldogs are the top dogs.
Going into the season, only two players were returning who had played significant minutes the previous season. There wasn’t a single senior on the roster, and a freshman and two sophomores would be in the starting five. Even coach Julie Graves said the season had the possibility of being a rebuilding year. But Montesano was ready to win — now.
On Feb. 6, the Lady Bulldogs completed an undefeated regular season by drubbing Rochester, 54-36, to finish 20-0. It was the first time a Montesano girls basketball team has gone undefeated and also the first outright Evergreen 1A League girls basketball championship in school history, according to Montesano Athletic Director Tim Trimble. Montesano’s girls shared the league title in 1988, 1993 and 1994.
The key to the Lady Bulldogs’ ascension to first place hasn’t been one player, but a unit that spends as much time together away from basketball as they do on the court. They are fueled by Mexican food and don’t care who scores as long as they win.
“They really do get along,” Graves said. “It doesn’t matter to them who is scoring the points. They have one goal, and when they step out on the basketball floor as a team, they want to win.”
The chemistry of the group began to form for some during the volleyball season. Six of the top seven scorers played volleyball for Montesano during the fall. For others, it began during AAU basketball. Freshman Shayla Floch and freshman Jordan Spradlin have been playing basketball together since sixth grade. For team members Shayla Floch and junior Myranda Floch, their bond as sisters is an asset.
No matter how the chemistry was built, there is no denying that this team is tight-knit.
“During Christmas break, all of us would hang out almost every day,” sophomore Cortney Miller said. “We would go see a movie, have Taco Bell and just hang out the whole day and then go to practice and hang out after.”
The group loves its Mexican food. They go to Taco Bell in Aberdeen or El Rancho in Montesano. Sometimes members of the team even make a special trip to Olympia to go to Chipotle. In the same way that each ingredient in the Chipotle assembly line brings a different flavor to a dish, each player brings her own unique abilities to the team.
“Everybody is so different,” junior Hannah Jensen said. “Myranda is fast, Jordan is tall, Shayla can score, (sophomore) Kasie (Kloempken) has a good shot and Cortney is strong. Everybody has their own strong points, so when you put it together it works out really well.”
Kloempken said the focus on a possible championship started in the offseason when members of the team attended two different camps. Yet the group knew it would take hard work to be successful, let alone undefeated. The sophomore said the Lady Bulldogs took their preparation very seriously before the season and when they started playing games there was a new feel compared to the previous season. Montesano’s defense fueled its offense by creating points off of turnovers and the six-foot-one-inch Spradlin became a force on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Even after wins in their first six games, Kloempken said the girls didn’t realize they could go undefeated until after they beat Elma on Jan. 3. Even after their final game against Rochester, the perfect record still hadn’t sunk in for some players.
“I was awake practically all night,” Kloempken said. “I was just lying in bed smiling there. It was awesome. It feels like hard work has paid off.”
Spradlin has been one of the main offensive weapons for Montesano this season, but as teams began to double team the post player, the team had to look elsewhere for production. There was no panic as several of the players have stepped up in games to be the leading scorer. For junior point guard Megan Choate, who had 17 points against Rochester last Thursday, a double team of Spradlin is an opportunity for others.
“When they want to double team Jordan, we just look for everybody on the court,” Choate said. “There has got to be somebody open if they are double teaming. I believe that anyone on our team can shoot and everyone else on the team believes that, so it is nice to have confidence going on the court that we can make baskets. We all have each other’s backs.”
“We all like winning and we would rather be the winning team than the team where only one girl scores,” Spradlin said.
Montesano has been on the winning side in every game this season with 19 of those 20 victories by 10 or more points. The Lady Bulldogs have rewritten the record books, but they want to add a few more entries before the season is over. Montesano will start postseason play at 8 p.m. Thursday against either Illwaco or Rainier at WF West High School in Chehalis.
“We have had way more assists this year than we ever have because they are willing to look for the open person,” Graves said. “It is just a close-knit group of girls. They really like playing basketball together. They are excited and we can celebrate what an accomplishment we’ve made for the regular season, but we aren’t done. We still have games to play and we have games that we want to win.”