Different tone. Familiar message. Same expectations.
With a roster deep in talent, the Kentridge High girls return to the basketball court carrying lofty goals in pursuit of the big prize – a return to state and a 4A title.
Brad McDowell, who succeeds Bob Sandall as head coach, welcomes the task.
“Again, it puts a lot of expectations (on us) but I like those (expectations) and so do the kids,” McDowell said of this season’s run at 4A supremacy. “Having that challenge and really pushing forward to be the best we can possibly be, I think, has really helped us grow.”
McDowell, who worked on Sandall’s staff and coached the junior varsity for the past eight years, got the nod after Sandall decided to step aside after last season to spend more time with family. He continues to teach business at the school.
Sandall, who coached girls basketball at Kentwood in the 1980s and at Kentlake from 1999-2001, spent the last 14 years at Kentridge, beginning as an assistant to Mark Champoux and working the last eight seasons at the helm.
Under Sandall, McDowell learned the game from one of the area’s best. Sandall directed the Chargers (26-5) to their first state championship in 2017 and was chosen Family Insurance All-USA Washington Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
Sandall’s Chargers finished 26-3 a season ago but were jolted in a state quarterfinal loss to Woodinville on a late 3-pointer in overtime. Kentridge recovered to bring home a fourth-place trophy.
Now it’s McDowell’s turn at the wheel.
So far, so good. Top-ranked Kentridge is off to a 5-0 start, including key wins at Bellarmine Prep (50-43) on Nov. 27 and against Eastlake (73-46) at Highline College last Saturday. McDowell’s Chargers routed Kennedy Catholic 72-31 in a North Puget Sound League Cascade Division game Tuesday.
“I’ve always been looking to be the head coach. It was one of my hopes and dreams,” McDowell said. “From learning the routines, all the little parts, the ins and outs of coaching, I think I’m ready.”
McDowell brings a different tone and intensity level to the gym. He has a staff that complements his approach to the game, just as McDowell and Co. did for Sandall.
“When we were working, we were kind of the yin and yang a little bit, where Bob was a little bit more relaxed and I was a little more ‘let’s go get ’em,’ ” McDowell said. “I’m, at times, a little bit more fiery than Bob was, but again we balanced each other really well.”
Sandall left the cupboard full for McDowell.
Back are the twin towers – 6-foot-3 senior JaQuaya Miller, who has signed a letter of intent to play for the University of Washington next fall, and 6-2 junior Jordyn Jenkins, who has attracted interest from major schools.
Also back is Dayla Ballena, a 5-7 junior guard, and joining the lineup is Kiernen Denckla, a 5-9 junior guard/wing who transferred from Kentlake.
The team offers a mix of seniors – Abby Hyneck, Taylor Esperanza, Tiffani Pham, Hana McVicker and Lexi Noszlopy – with sophomore Martina Lam and freshman Naomi Hall-Schiffner.
Lost to graduation are Morgan Gary, who is playing at Northern Arizona University, and point guard Tresai McCarver, who is playing at Western Oregon.
McDowell employs a similar attack, featuring the team’s three primary weapons – Miller, Jenkins and Ballena – and is getting contributions from other players.
“I have 11 of the most unselfish kids possible,” he said. “They are looking for each other. They are working hard. Our post (players) are just as willing to kick (the ball) out as our guards are to put it inside. That unselfishness is huge on our team … and they are always looking for ways to improve and help each other out.”
A tight family, the Kentridge girls have responded to McDowell’s direction.
“As an assistant coach we have always listened to his input,” Miller said, “but he’s harder on us, and that’s better for us.”
Jenkins added: “We’re not like any ordinary team. We get along really, really well. We might not have as much focus because we are so close because we’re friends and like to joke around; but with McDowell it’s better for this specific team because he really keeps us in check.”
Especially at crunch time.
Carrying the weight of defending champion, Kentridge had its share of challenges last season. It saw its 14-game winning streak snapped to Central Valley of Spokane 57-39 in the King Showcase at the accesso ShoWare Center last January. Central Valley went on to take the 4A crown.
At state, the Chargers didn’t see an upset loss coming. They never got another shot at Central Valley.
“Last year was harder because we were the team to beat. Teams were gunning for us,” Jenkins said. “It came down to the little things. We weren’t prepared to be back-to-back state champions.”
Miller understands championship form. She was the state tournament MVP two years ago as a sophomore. More mature physically and mentally two years later, she is ready to lead her team to some atonement.
“We definitely didn’t take it that seriously,” Miller admitted. “We felt it was going to be a breeze, and that we were going to win the championship again. … But we ran into Central Valley at the ShoWare Center. We didn’t expect to lose like that … and when we lost to Woodinville at state, it was humbling.
“But that’s where McDowell comes into play, making sure we’re disciplined and prepared to play, no matter who are opponent is.”