Woodinville's Jaela Eggers (left), Mia Hughes (center) and Veronica Sheffey (right) (Photo by Don Borin)
I've ridden the Woodinville team bus twice. The first time was two years ago, when the Lady Falcons went to Ellensburg to take on Moses Lake. I sat up front with the coaches, while the girls piled into the back of the bus.
That team was chock full of big personalities. Like Regan Schenck, Nikki Zaback and Jordi Berday. They were rambunctious and they were LOUD. That trip across snowy Snoqualmie Pass was full of chatter and bursts of laughter.
My second bus ride came a few weeks ago, when Woodinville traveled to Everett to take on Glacier Peak. While the bus rattled and chugged its way up Interstate-5, I was talking with coach Scott Bullock. Suddenly, I paused the conversation and strained to listen. From the back of the bus came the sounds of... silence.
Mia Hughes was the only one that played on both teams.
“This year's team is a lot quieter,” Hughes said. “Especially after we win big games. It's weird, like you know everyone is excited, but you don't hear people talking a lot... Especially me, Veronica [Sheffey] and everyone is just sleeping or listening to their music.”
But just like the team from two years ago, this year’s squad went all the way to the state championship game, before losing to Central Valley.
The Woodinville Falcons finished this season with a 28-1 record. Mia Hughes won her second consecutive Kingco 4A MVP Award. Scott Bullock was named Coach of the Year by The Seattle Times.
“We shocked everybody, but I was even shocked myself to a point,” Hughes said. “When we lost six seniors last year, I was like, `Dang we're not going to win Kingco.’ But then we went 28-1. We did things I didn't think we would be able to do. I knew we had good players, but I didn't know if the chemistry was going to be there beforehand. But we had it during the season. Once we got going and connecting with each other off the court, things got going and we had something special.”
Back in early December, the season got underway and the wins began to accumulate. Senior forward Jaela Eggers pointed to a December 18 game against Redmond as a key point. Woodinville romped to a 64-26 win to run its record to 5-0.
“[Redmond] started pressing us, and it pushed us to go and run the floor,” Eggers said. “You could see it on the floor. We were running up and down faster than usual. We were passing the ball, making that extra pass to the open shooter. We would run plays for Mia, we would see her on the open cuts and get the ball there. All the nerves got out of the younger girls.”
The team took a holiday trip to San Diego, the Surf N’ Slam tourney. Woodinville won all three of its games, including a 51-43 win in the championship game against undefeated Prestonwood (TX). The Falcons returned home to face the new year with a sparkling 10-0 record.
Now when it came to experience, Woodinville was as green as their road uniforms. The starting five consisted of Hughes (junior), point guard Veronica Sheffey (sophomore), shooting guard Tatum Thompson (sophomore), forward-center Brooke Beresford (freshman) and forward Jaela Eggers, who was the lone senior.
“I knew I was the team mom, because I was the oldest,” Eggers said. ”I was able to connect with the younger players... It was the little things that made us all connect. It was a great group of girls.”
“It was helpful to have Jaela there,” Hughes said. “Because she was able to connect with the younger players unlike I was able to do.”
Throughout January, Woodinville ran roughshod through the conference with ten more victories. Assistant coach Sam Moscatel marveled at the constant improvement.
“These kids took care of business, day in and day out,” Moscatel said. “They kept getting better. You could see them starting to believe in what was happening. I don't think I've ever been part of a team that was undefeated that deep into the season.”
One revelation was the play of sophomore Tatum Thompson. The 5’11” guard would glide up the court like a gazelle, slalom through defenders, then soar to the glass with a fingertip lay-in. Other times, she would catch a pass at the top of the key, then elevate like a pogo stick and swish the twine with a picture-perfect jumper.
(Her style of play caused this sportswriter to flashback to being a little kid at the Kingdome, and watching George “Iceman” Gervin play for the San Antonio Spurs.)
Come February, Woodinville entered the postseason and took down all opponents. The Falcons beat Inglemoor 57-43 to win their fourth consecutive Kingco 4A title. On February 21, they beat Glacier Peak in overtime to capture the Wes-King tourney title. Woodinville advanced to the State tourney with a 25-0 record.
Woodinville beat Rogers and headed down to the Tacoma Dome last week. The Falcons’ first challenge was against #2 seed Todd Beamer. The game was nip-and-tuck until the final minutes. Sophomore Natalie Bright came up big with four clutch free throws. Mia Hughes put the team on her back and scored 34 points. Woodinville won 57-50.
The next day brought a familiar foe, Glacier Peak. Fans would be treated to a duel between two of the best point guards in the state – Woodinville's Veronica Sheffey and Glacier Peak’s Aaliyah Collins.
But what was a close game at halftime turned into a second half rout. The Falcons outscored the Grizzlies 27-7 in the third quarter. It was one of those magical moments where everything Woodinville did was golden. The Falcons made steals, executed great passes, scored on fast breaks. Tatum Thompson was magnificent on her way to 16 points. And freshman forward Brooke Beresford was a force to be reckoned with. She hit three pointers, grabbed rebounds, didn’t back down, despite her rookie status.
Woodinville coasted to a 63-41 win. The Falcon record now stood at 28-0. They had one more opponent – Central Valley of Spokane. This was the team that beat Woodinville for the state championship two years earlier.
“I wasn't nervous but it was kind of hard being my last game,” Jaela Eggers said. “I knew I had to leave it out on the floor for my team. From the opening tip, it was such a fast-paced game. It felt like our type of game. Some calls didn't go our way and we got starters in foul trouble.”
One of those afflicted was Tatum Thompson. She quickly got zapped with three fouls and sat for an extended time on the bench.
“What hurt was that Tatum hardly played in the first half,” Moscatel said. “Our transition game is really her and Mia getting out and going, and Veronica pushing it. But we had a big component missing, and that was Tatum. I think she sat the entire second quarter.”
Central Valley grew its lead to 16 points in the third quarter. But Mia Hughes took her resolve to another level. With the determination of a raging bull, she began willing the ball into the basket. Thanks to her scoring, the Falcons chipped away at the deficit. With forty seconds left in the game, Brooke Beresford’s three-point attempt rattled out of the hoop – which would have tied the score.
“We knew it was going to a tough game,” Moscatel said. “They played hard and we just had a hard time scoring points. We got into a hole that was too big to get out of. It would have been easy to quit, but those kids are so darn resilient. They refused to quit. I honestly give them a ton of credit. I was proud of them for that.”
Moscatel and head coach Scott Bullock met with the team afterwards. There were tears and Hughes took the loss quite hard.
“It was a remarkable four months with a bunch of kids who were determined,” Moscatel said. “I told the kids that `Right now you can't feel what you've accomplished. You're hurt and discouraged. But hopefully time heals everything, and you'll look back and you'll see what an incredible season you had.’”
“The bench never fell quiet, we fought until the end,” Eggers said. “It didn't turn out the way we wanted. But I was talking to one of the girls about it. The end result was more than just a trophy, we got a learning experience out of it. I think these girls will be able to use this experience in the years to come.”
“Jalea can't stay with us, but I've got one more year,” Hughes said. “We have a really young team. It was a good learning experience.”
Assistant Coach Sam Moscatel’s Comments on each Varsity Player:
Jaela Eggers, Sr.
“She is a coach on the floor. She took such good care of the younger kids. She has so much care and compassion. On the court she vocalized and got kids into the spots they were supposed to be... She doesn't get as much credit as she deserves, but she did a heck of a job keeping us together as a team.”
Mia Hughes, Jr.
“What can you say about her? I could be here all night with you. She is the most resilient, competitive, disciplined, hard-working kid I've ever been around with kids playing at that level. She does not want to lose. She took the team on her back many different times. She took the Central Valley loss extremely hard, because that's who she is... She was a huge part of me wanting to come back this year [to coach]. I’m certainly glad I did. She is absolutely an incredible young lady and had an incredible year.”
Brooke Beresford, Fr.
“I heard Scott say that this Brooke kid can play. I never saw her play until the spring. It took me two games to say `Holy moly this is a pretty good player!...’ She came on stronger and stronger at the end of the year. She works her tail off in practice, has a great sense of humor. She was clutch at the free throw line, she rebounds, she gave us some big threes. You're going to hear a lot about her next year. She had a phenomenal year for a freshman.”
Autumn Sellie, So.
“At the beginning of the year, she was getting a ton more minutes than at the end. She got a hip pointer about a month ago, and that's when things got a little more difficult for her. But she is so energetic, so enthusiastic, so positive on the bench with the girls. She has a ton of speed... Her hip had a toll on her the last five weeks of the season.”
Hannah Bowles, Jr.
“Hannah was a JV player for most of the year. She came up and was on the bench with us every single game. She was a true delight. It's difficult when you don't get minutes. What makes a team a good team is when you have kids like this on the bench... She was about the team, she was happy to be there. She never complained. She can really shoot the jumper from long range.”
Natalie Bright, Jr.
“She stepped up and made those four free throws in a row against Todd Beamer. She is a really quiet kid and this year she really came out of her [shell]. A great shooter, you can always count on her for one or two three pointers a game. She gave us a spark offensively this year.”
Emma Torrie, So.
“She would have fit in with that [2017-18] team, because she's pretty loud! She made our bench incredible too. I would look down and say `Come on we need some noise’, and she'd cheer and get the other girls to cheer. She never, ever complained about not getting playing time. She worked hard in practice, always positive, always smiling. She's a great kid. A true delight to coach.
Mira Milat, Jr.
“Like I was saying with Emma and Hannah, it can be difficult sometimes when you don't get minutes to show what you can do [in a game]. But Mira was there supporting the girls constantly, though she was more of a quiet kid. We had an incredible bench this year and she was a part of that group. Our supportive bench was a big reason for the team's success this season... Mira is really fast and a great defender.”
Veronica Sheffey, So.
“What can you say about Veronica? She's another one that is all business, works her tail off. You see her ability to rebound, you see her ability to take the ball to the hoop. She has a ton of upside. If you came to any of our practices, you would see a kid who works hard and who gets other kids to work hard. She's a competitive kid that only wants to get better and better. It's crazy to think she was only a sophomore and the things she accomplished this year were mind-blowing... She's a tough kid, too.”
Adie Segadelli, Fr.
“She was mostly playing on the JV, and then she would suit up with the varsity. Her spirit and spunk and ability as a freshman to fit in with these older kids is remarkable. The kids love her, she stood behind them on the bench. Lots of praise and encouragement... She has a bright future.”
Tatum "The Ice Girl" Thompson, So.
“She is the sweetest kid you will ever meet. She is a basketball junkie. You have to tell her, ‘Hey Tatum you've got to leave the gym now!’ Her athletic ability is second-to-none. In the future you're going to see her shine like you can't believe. She works her tail off, her attitude is incredible. It's amazing to see what she is going to do. Her progression from last year playing JV and sitting on the bench, to this year starting and playing, I haven't seen anything like it at Woodinville, the progress she made in one year. It is so exciting to think what she can do in another year, her junior year. The progress she made in the past year was scary. She can run the court, she can jump, she can shoot, she can rebound. The sky's the limit for her.”
Tatum Thompson (Photo by Don Borin)
Woodinville's exuberant bench (Photo by Dale Garvey)
The 2019-20 Woodinville Falcons (Photo by Don Borin)