LYNNWOOD - This is not the Blaine girls' basketball team's first time to the dance, but it's kind of like the Borderites have got a new partner.
After advancing to the Class 1A State Tournament last year with a starting lineup that featured three freshmen and one sophomore, Blaine still graduated its top scorer and two key reserves from last season and went through a coaching change during the offseason.
"We kind of got off to a slow start this year with all the changes, but I think that only made us work harder," sophomore forward Taylor V'Dovec said. "I think that brought us together and made us better."
The fruits of their labors paid off on Saturday, Feb. 16, at Lynnwood High School, when the Borderites used a 56-33 victory over Eatonville in the Class 1A tri-district tournament to earn a berth into the regional round of the 1A State Tournament.
The Borderites had four of their five starters score in double figures, led by Mandy Hayes' 15 points, and all five starters logged at least one assist in a well-balanced offensive attack.
"We have so many players on this team that are capable of scoring," junior post Alexis McElwain said. "If somebody is open, we know to get them the ball."
Blaine (20-6) hopes to get a similar offensive display when it heads to the regional round next week.
With the win, the Borderites receive the tri-district's No. 5 seed and will face the Southwest District's No. 1 seed at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, at Chehalis W.F. West.
"We're really happy to advance, but we want to get back to Yakima," Blaine coach Ryan Pike said. "We're still one win away from our goal. We still have some work to do."
The fact that Blaine is going back to the regional round is quite impressive, though, especially with all the transition it had to go through this year.
"I think this year's team is a little more fun," McElwain said. "We all pick each other up before each game. ... We're a lot younger this year. Last year we had a senior and three really good freshmen. This year, we have three really good freshmen, three really good sophomores and three juniors. We're all young and we work together real well."
Though the Borderites don't have a senior on their roster, they certainly didn't play like it Saturday.
After a back-and-forth first quarter, V'Dovec went on a 7-2 run with Eatonville to open the second period and stretch an 8-7 advantage into a 15-9 margin.
V'Dovec got the run started with a short jumper off a feed from McElwain 50 seconds into the second. Two possessions later, she hit a pair of free throws.
After Eatonville's Samantha Cox responded with a post-up move for a bucket, V'Dovec grabbed an offensive board, put it back in and was fouled, allowing her to complete a 3-point play.
"I think we did a really good job of moving the ball around and working with each other today," V'Dovec said.
That good teamwork allowed Blaine to slowly stretch its lead, before Breanna Chau hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to send the Borderites to the halftime locker room with a 26-15 advantage.
Eatonville would only cut its deficit to single digits twice in the second half, and both times the Borderites quickly responded to re-establish a comfortable lead, as the Cruisers struggled to shut down Blaine's attack.
"We have so many offensive threats," Pike said. "If you try to shut down one or two of them, there are two of three others ready to step up. Our five starters are outstanding, and Rhiana (Breedlove) and Nicole (Ortega) do a good job when we bring them in."
V'Dovec and McElwain joined Hayes and Chau in double figures with 13 and 11 points respectively. The duo also led the Borderites on the boards, as McElwain had eight and V'Dovec seven. McElwain even led the team with a game-high four assists, while V'Dovec had a game-high four steals, a blocked shot and three assists.
While Blaine's offense was clicking, its defense also smothered the Cruisers for most of the game.
The Borderites forced 21 turnovers, including 10 by steal and held Eatonville to 10-for-45 shooting in the game.
Kaelyn Voss and Kayley Bass led the Cruisers with eight points apiece.
"I think it's a little more special this year," V'Dovec said of advancing. "I think after you get a taste of it, you want it more."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
BLAINE 56, EATONVILLE 33
Blaine 8 18 11 17 - 56
Eatonville 7 8 13 5 - 33
Blaine: Emily Poe 0, Gretchen Kordas 0, Breanna Chau 10, Olivia Olason 5, Alexis McElwain 11, Nicole Ortega 0, Mikayla Deming 0, Mandy Hayes 15, Rhiana Breedlove 2, Taylor V'Dovec 13. Team totals: 19-43 14-20 56.
Eatonville: Kaelyn Voss 8, Hannah Welfringer 1, Kayley Bass 8, Kendra Trummert 4, Samantha Cox 5, Hailey Latherow 7, Emily Boettcher 0, Marisa Bass 0. Team totals: 10-45 9-14 33.
3-ptg: Blaine 4 (Chau 2, Hayes 2), Eatonville 4 (Voss 2, K. Bass 2). Rebounds: Blaine 31 (McElwain 8), Eatonville 31 (Trummert 8, Cox 8). Assists: Blaine 12 (McElwain 4), Eatonville 5 (K. Bass 2, Trummert 2). Fouls: Blaine 11 , Eatonville 19 (Voss, Latherow fouled out). Turnovers: Blaine 14, Eatonville 21.