Panther girls basketball hopes to build on playoff experience

Cinderalla season saw Washougal reach the district tournament

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Chandler Audette (left) reaches out to defend a shot by Maddie Down (right) during a Washougal High School girls basketball practice.

After an amazing autumn on the soccer field, Darcy Akers and Maddie Down are ready to lead the Washougal girls on the basketball court.

Overcoming incredible odds in the final few weeks of the 2009-10 season, the Panthers galloped into the district tournament for the first time in recent memory. The coronation came after Washougal defeated Hockinson 70-63 in overtime on “Senior Night.” Five nights later, the Panthers beat Mark Morris on the road 61-60 to qualify for the district tournament. They lost to Centralia in the first round, but they will never forget the journey.

“The team got so much closer and alive,” Akers said. “Hopefully, we can build off that intensity and add it to our game.”

Washougal High School sports teams enjoyed a resurgence in the fall. Akers, Down and Kendall Utter were right in the middle of it in soccer and cross country. They hope success continues for the Panthers indoors.

“I saw my sister go through four years of Washougal always being at the bottom,” Down said. “It’s fun to be a part of the turnaround.”

Head coach Charlie Boyce enjoys the enthusiasm provided by returning players Akers, Down, Utter, Chandler Audette, Sarah Brown and Megan Townsend. He is also excited to see what Sara Mantey, Savannah McDowell and the other players up from junior varsity add to the team.

“Our wins against Hockinson and Mark Morris were incredible and exciting games to be a part of,” Boyce said. “When you’ve had a taste of success in those close games, you’re not afraid of them any more. Basketball is such a game of confidence. Once you taste success, there’s no fear of the unknown.”

Washougal could be in some more close games this year with Woodland, Mark Morris and Hockinson. The Panthers are also looking forward to rekindling the rivalry with Camas on Dec. 9, at Camas High School.

“The top four teams go on to districts. Our goal is to get into that top two so we can host a playoff game,” Boyce said. “These are very coachable and unselfish kids who are buying into sacrifice. We always talk about sacrificing the interest of yourself for the team first.”

Leading the Panthers in their unselfish ways is Akers. After battling back from a torn posterior cruciate ligament last season, Akers hit some clutch 3-pointers in those victories over Hockinson and Mark Morris.

“Darcy is the prime example of the type of player you want in your program,” Boyce said. “She gives every ounce of her body for basketball. It’s neat to see all of her time and effort pay off.”

As much as Akers and Down enjoy soccer, they both say basketball is their first love. Their teammates are their sisters.

“We’ve achieved the family side of basketball, just not the success yet,” Down said. “This year, we want the success.”