The Spartans opened the season 1-5 — disappointing, but not too much of a surprise when half the varsity roster is underclassmen, including four freshmen.
However, win or lose, the team got better each game. And last week, the Spartans (2-3 in league, 4-7 overall) are starting to fire on all cylinders with two league wins and a close nonleague loss to 9-3 Lake Washington.
“I think we’re really starting to click,” 6-foot-4 freshman Viv Berrett said. “It took a while to learn the defense, but I think we got it now.”
For the four freshmen — Berrett, Grace Walker, Chloe Santeford and Tatum Brager — there was a lot of newness.
“The biggest thing was just trying to get used to each other,” Berrett said. “Now that we have that team chemistry, we’re all doing better.”
The freshmen credit the seniors — Shelby Lund, Madi Plautz, Gabs Green and Rachel Dunning — with leading by example on and off the court.
“I felt awkward talking to them at first,” Santeford said of the seniors. “I feel more comfortable now, and they’ve been so great.”
That not only helps build team chemistry, but has enhanced communication on the court during games, Santeford said.
“Spending more time together has helped in knowing their abilities on the court, knowing where people are,” she said. “I’m starting to learn where (Madi) Plautz and Shelby like to be. Now we just need to keep getting more comfortable with each other, knowing weaknesses and strengths like the back of our hands.”
Walker said that while team chemistry and communication have helped, fully grasping the defense is the major fuel behind the recent surge.
“We’re talking to each other more when we have to switch players and getting back on defense,” she said. “It’s amazing how far we’ve come together so far.”
In December, the Spartans were allowing an average of 55 points per game. In January, Stanwood is allowing just 41.6 points per game.
“Our defense is very new to these girls,” assistant coach Drew Sears said. “We’re starting to see that we can hold really skilled teams down. The goal is under 12 points each quarter. With that happening, we’re starting to see success.”
Sears said it took a couple of games for the team to mesh, but with more reps and help from the seniors, the chemistry is strong.
“We are overly thrilled with how Grace has been handling the load,” Sears said of the starting point guard. “She’s done a good job of getting the team involved.”
Santeford has been “rock solid” on defense, Sears said.
“She’s a very good piece of defensive puzzle,” he said. “And Chloe is starting to get more comfortable on offense.”
Though standing an imposing 6-foot-4 in the paint, Berrett is growing into her body and getting better every game, Sears said.
“Viv is just having flashes of ‘oh boy, this is going to be scary in a year or two,’” he said.
In between the seniors and freshmen is a deep and talented bench that keeps the energy high throughout games, Sears said.
“Our bench did very well last week when we called on them,” he said. “Madeline Larson had 15-20 very key minutes for us. (Freshman) Tatum Brager had some big 3s last week. She’s starting to find her shot.”
The Spartans opened last week with key league wins over Shorewood and Mountlake Terrace.
On Jan. 7, Stanwood topped Shorewood 66-26 behind 14 points from Lund, 13 from Ava Cook and eight from Paige Almanza. Ten Spartans scored in the game.
On Jan. 10, the Spartans beat Mountlake Terrace 55-31 in front of a home crowd behind 14 more points from Lund, 12 from Berrett and seven from Almanza. Again, 10 Stanwood players scored.
A day later, Stanwood hosted Lake Washington, falling in a tight 54-46 game. Berrett led the team with 14 points, Lund had 12 and Plautz scored 10.
“With the defense starting to click, that gives us tons of energy,” said Sears, who is filling in for head coach Trent Adams. “The next step on offense is to start getting Madi Plautz involved more, get Shelby more catch and shoot 3s and allow Grace to be more aggressive.”
While the freshmen said the pace of varsity games was eye-opening at first, they’re now up to speed.
“When I walked out at first, I was really nervous, it was a lot faster paced,” Berrett said. “Now I’m back into the swing of things.”
And that can be dangerous, Santeford said.
“Having a 6-4 post is really nice,” she said. “So we have Viv and we have good shooters and drivers — and we’re getting better.”