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Kierra Thayer rumbled on both ends of the floor as an 8th grader. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

They closed with a vengeance.

Capping a season of huge improvement, the Coupeville Middle School girls basketball teams went basket for basket with their next door neighbors Thursday in Langley.

The Wolf varsity, led by the red-hot long-distance shooting of Haylee Armstrong, pushed the Cougars hard, before being nipped 21-19 in what coaches from both schools termed “their best game so far.”

Haylee hit a couple of big threes, and our defense was nearly flawless, keeping South Whidbey from setting up an offense the majority of the game,” said Coupeville coach Kassie O’Neil.

Haylee Armstrong led all Coupeville Middle School players in scoring this season.

“The girls came out ready to play and kept up the same energy throughout the entire game,” O’Neil said.

“I think both of our teams brought our A-games and it was great to see two similar teams going head-to-head.”

While Armstrong was droppin’ bombs from the parking lot, Kierra Thayer anchored the Wolf defense.

Kierra had a few HUGE stuffs, denying the shooters any time they tried to get a shot up past her,” O’Neil said. “And she was there to rebound on both ends of the court.

“Her hustle during this game was the best I’ve seen from her this season.”

While Coupeville couldn’t quite nab the season-ending victory, O’Neil still came away flushed with pride in her young players.

“It was the best ending for our season. I’m so proud of these girls and the gains they made in such a short amount of time,” she said.

“I think we accomplished our big goals — they gained foundational skills, learned what it means to turn a team into family, and fostered a love for the game.”

A former Coupeville hoops star who was known for knocking down big shots at crunch time, O’Neil was pleased with a lot of what she saw in her first season being in charge.

“If I’m lucky enough to continue coaching Wolves hoops, I’ll be happy to see these girls back on the court for another couple of seasons,” she said. “It’s been a blast to witness their growth and joy, playing the sport I love.”

O’Neil’s fellow coach, Kristina Forbes, had a similar experience in her first go-round with the Wolf JV, which fell 46-11 at Langley.

“We had one main goal and that was to just play better than we did the first we played South Whidbey,” she said. “We accomplished that. These girls played their hearts out and never gave up!”

Willow Leedy-Bonifas is a fireball on the floor.

Forbes gave her whole team props, with a special shout-out for feisty guard Willow Leedy-Bonifas.

“She was not afraid to get in the face of her opponent and try for the steals!” Forbes said with a big smile.

Coupeville’s second squad was almost entirely made up of players who were brand new to competitive basketball, but they held up well against much more experienced teams such as King’s, Sultan, and Langley.

“This season was full of learning to cope with emotions, and to develop skills, bonding with their teammates and learning to trust each other on the court,” Forbes said.

“My girls have come so far from the beginning of the season till the end.

“By last night’s game the nerves seemed to be distant and all that beamed through them was determination.

“Overall, I hope that my girls had a fun season and will plan to come out next year.”

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Coupeville Middle School hoops star Inara Maund played in one game Tuesday and sketched her teammates in action during the other. (Photo courtesy Kristina Forbes)

“They came with a fire and a passion that I have been waiting to see this season.”

For first-year Coupeville Middle School girls basketball coaches Kassie O’Neil and Kristina Forbes, this has been a season of celebrating each milestone, as largely inexperienced players learn the game on the fly.

Instead of wins and losses, the Wolves have measured their success on lessons learned, skills picked up, and confidence built.

Which is why O’Neil exited the CMS gym Tuesday after game #7 in a eight-game season with a visible sense of pride.

“This was our best game, by far,” she said. “The girls walked away super happy and ready to play in the offseason. It was the perfect last home game.”

Coupeville closes the campaign with a road trip to Langley Thursday, and the program has taken a major leap forward since opening day.

How Tuesday played out:

 

Varsity:

Coupeville upped its point total in each quarter, and while the Wolves fell 37-19, the hot shooting of Haylee Armstrong and the team’s defense were big standouts.

“We just learned zone (defense) this week and you couldn’t even tell,” O’Neil said. “It looked like they had been playing zone all season.

“I honestly wish we had been, because they KILLED it.”

Armstrong rattled the rims for a season-high 11 points, including hitting a three-ball which further cements her status as a fast-rising, sweet-shooting star.

Haylee came out shooting amazing; she kept swishing shot after shot,” said O’Neil, who nailed her fair share of big shots during her own Coupeville hoops days.

“Our guards worked hard on driving with a purpose and dishing to the posts or wings to shoot,” she added.

“Our big thing has been “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” so today, whether they made them or not, I told the girls I would be proud of them just for taking the shot.

“And they did just that.”

Kierra Thayer slapped home six points in support of Armstrong, with Rhylin Price and Brynn Parker each rippling the net on a free throw.

Liza Zustiak, Tenley Stuurmans, Capri Anter, Ava Lucero, Marin Winger, Lexis Drake, and Avery Williams-Buchanan also saw floor time, with Winger getting a nice shout out from O’Neil for having “hustle every time she hit the court — executing our defense perfectly and being aggressive on offense constantly.”

The Wolf hoops guru spread love to everyone on the roster.

“The girls went out and weren’t afraid,” she said. “When the season is over, these are the games I hope they’ll walk away holding onto, pushing them into further basketball careers.

“Their excitement and pride was palpable in the locker room after the game,” O’Neil added. “Today was a day that reminded me why I love this game so much.

“Regardless of the score, we walked away knowing we won that game in all of the ways that matter.”

 

JV:

Facing a physical team, the young Wolves held up well, playing Sultan virtually even in the second half during a 25-11 loss.

Forbes and her players achieved one goal — holding the Turks to 25 or less points — while narrowly missing out on setting a season-high with their own scoring efforts.

Most importantly, the Wolves set out to play better against Sultan than they did earlier in the season, a mission you can mark as accomplished.

“The girls stayed strong throughout this game,” Forbes said. “They got beat up pretty good!”

Taylor Marrs sparked the rough-and-ready Wolf attack, using every one of her allotted fouls while clamping down on the Turk shooters.

“We had our first foul-out of the season,” Forbes said with pride. “When you think of defense, that’s Taylor all the way. She has definitely come a long way.

“I am so proud of these girls and the confidence they are starting to show on the court!”

Melanie Wolfe topped the Coupeville scorers, dropping in all five of her points in the fourth quarter, while Chelsi Stevens, Adeline Maynes, and Rhylin Price each chipped in with a bucket.

It was the first points of the season for the hard-working Stevens, who becomes the 15th CMS player to score.

Rosie Lay, Willow Leedy-Bonifas, Marrs, Laken Simpson, Elyse White, Ava Carpenter, Inara Maund, and Lexis Drake also saw floor time for the Wolves.

 

The art of the game:

Earlier this season, while I was covering a CMS hoops game in person, Inara Maund was busy working the camera, shooting the action for her coaches.

During time-outs she showed me some of her artwork and I later wrote about how I wanted to showcase some of her creations here on Coupeville Sports.

And what do you know, it’s happening!

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The brain trust behind CMS girls basketball is (l to r) Kassie O’Neil, Kristina Forbes, Brooklyn Thayer, and Mandi Black. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Onwards and upwards.

The Coupeville Middle School girls basketball players continue to stand in the middle of the ring, dropping haymakers, even when facing rivals with much-more experience and floor time.

Tuesday brought Lakewood — which sends its players on to a 2A high school — to town for another rugged test for the Wolves.

How the day played out:

 

Varsity:

Ready for the spotlight.

“The girls continue to fight, get better, and focus on having fun while doing it.”

While Coupeville fell 41-6 to Lakewood, CMS coach Kassie O’Neil was appreciative of the effort she sees each time out.

Haylee (Armstrong), Brynn (Parker), Tenley (Stuurmans), Marin (Winger), and Liza (Zustiak) kept up their hustle all the way through,” she said.

“We know we aren’t the winningest team, but I think we’ll definitely be the most improved.”

Coupeville is scrambling to play catch-up with many of the off-Island hoops programs, which benefit from inheriting players who have already fine-tuned their skill-set.

“For most the girls on our team having only five weeks of basketball under their belts, I’m proud of how they go against girls who play year-round, for probably years until now,” O’Neil said.

“We have been outmatched in skill, but not in desire to play.”

Kierra Thayer, Armstrong, and Stuurmans each went for a bucket to account for Coupeville’s scoring.

 

JV:

A pack of strong young women.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my girls!!!,” said Wolf coach Kristina Forbes.

Coupeville’s second unit delivered its best offensive performance of the season, outscoring Lakewood in the second half during a 29-11 loss.

The Wolves set and reached two goals in this game, breaking their own “five-point scoring curse” and holding the visitors to under 30.

“My girls were excited to meet their goals for the game,” Forbes said. “My girls definitely have the drive to play hard.

“My girls are seeing just how important free throws are, with Ava Carpenter sinking her last two at the line!” she added.

“All of my girls hustled and let Lakewood know they weren’t about to mess around this time!”

Adeline Maynes tossed in a career-best five points to spark the Wolf offense, with Carpenter, Melanie Wolfe, and Rhylin Price each adding two points.

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Ja’Kenya Hoskins slashes to the hoop. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Abby Mulholland rumbles in the paint.

And that’s a wrap.

The Coupeville High School girls basketball program brought the 2021-2022 season to an official end Friday with a season-ending awards banquet.

Coaches Megan Smith, Greg Turcott, Alex Evans, Cherie Smith, and Lark Gustafson handed out letters and certificates, providing tangible evidence of a season well-played.

The Wolf varsity girls finished third in the seven-team Northwest 2B/1B League, trailing just state powerhouses La Conner and Mount Vernon Christian, while the JV hoops stars showed rapid improvement as the season progressed.

When it came time for awards, players voted on four of five awards — Offensive and Defensive MVP, Most Improved, and Most Inspirational.

Their mentors made the decision on two Coaches Awards, which were given to players who made a big-time commitment.

“It was given to these players because they were always excited to be there,” Megan Smith said. “They worked hard no matter what, always wanted to improve.

“They were willing to do whatever was asked of them and were an all-around great person to be around.”

Katie Marti lines up a shot.

 

Varsity awards:

Coaches Award — Ja’Kenya Hoskins

Offensive MVP — Audrianna Shaw

Defensive MVP — Carolyn Lhamon

Most Improved — Katie Marti

Most Inspirational — Maddie Georges

Manager Extraordinaire — Mckenna Somes

 

JV awards:

Coaches Award — Madison McMillan

Offensive MVP — Desi Ramirez-Vasquez

Defensive MVP — Brooklyn Thayer

Most Improved — Mia Farris

Most Inspirational — Jada Heaton

 

Varsity letter winners:

Alita Blouin
Maddie Georges
Gwen Gustafson
Ja’Kenya Hoskins
Nezi Keiper
Carolyn Lhamon
Katie Marti
Abby Mulholland
Leni Raduenz (Manager)
Audrianna Shaw
Mckenna Somes (Manager)
Lyla Stuurmans
Izzy Wells
Savina Wells

 

Varsity participation certificate:

Mia Farris

 

JV participation certificates:

Kayla Arnold
Edie Bittner
Mia Farris
Bryley Gilbert
Jada Heaton
Madison McMillan
Candace Meek
Yodnum Nakakul
Skylar Parker
Desi Ramirez-Vasquez
Brooklyn Thayer
Jayden Varljen (Manager)
Reese Wilkinson

Skylar Parker sets up a teammate.

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Maddie Georges denies a pass. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

It’s a bit lopsided.

League champ La Conner and state champ Mount Vernon Christian accounted for 11 of 16 All-League picks when Northwest 2B/1B League coaches honored their top female basketball players.

The 2B Braves, who went undefeated in league, then finished fourth at state, have seven selections, including MVP Sarah Cook.

MVC, which only lost to La Conner and 1A power King’s before going on to claim the 1B hoops crown, have four players and their coach on the list of honorees.

Coupeville, which finished third in the seven-team league, was the only other school to land recognition for more than one player.

Junior point guard Maddie Georges was a Second-Team All-League pick, while senior gunner Audrianna Shaw earned Honorable Mention status.

 

Complete All-League awards:

 

MVP:

Sarah Cook — Senior — La Conner

 

Coach of the Year:

Jeff Droog — Mount Vernon Christian

 

Sportsmanship:

Friday Harbor

 

First-Team All-League:

Rachel Cram — Senior — La Conner
Josie Harper — Junior — La Conner
Ellie Marble — Junior — La Conner
Juna Swanson — Senior — La Conner
Hannah Van Hofwegen — Junior — Mount Vernon Christian

 

Second-Team All-League:

Bethany Carter — Sophomore — Orcas Island
Maddie Georges — Junior — Coupeville
Allie Heino — Sophomore — Mount Vernon Christian
Kylee Russell — Senior — Mount Vernon Christian
Caitlin Vander Kooy — Junior — Mount Vernon Christian
Ellalee Wortham — 8th grade — La Conner

 

Honorable Mention:

Ava Ashcroft — Freshman — La Conner
Mia Blackmon — Junior — Friday Harbor
Audrianna Shaw — Senior — Coupeville
Alyvia Wright — Senior — Darrington

Audrianna Shaw slaps home a runner.

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