Washougal girls face new challenges

Panthers strive for return to Sun Dome

The Washougal girls basketball team is trying to rediscover its fourth quarter finish.

After strong wins against Evergreen and Battle Ground to start the season, the Panthers had Black Hills on the ropes for three quarters before getting outscored 20-5 in the fourth and losing by nine points. Centralia then stunned Washougal at home by scoring the game-winning basket in the final seconds.

“I think we played really strong until the end,” said junior Beyonce Bea, the returning 2A Greater St. Helens League MVP. “We didn’t give up. It was a sad letdown, but a good learning opportunity. I’m proud of the way we kept our composure.”

Bea is the only starter back from last season’s squad that won the league championship, finished third at the district tournament and reached the state consolation semifinals at the Yakima Sun Dome.

“I’m trying to push myself so that I’m ready to do whatever needs to be done,” Bea said. She also believes her teammates will rise to the occasion.

“We’ve been playing together for a long time,” Bea said. “Just getting to go on this journey together is pretty cool. There’s a lot we need to work on, but getting back to ‘The Dome’ is still on our minds.”

Seniors Maggie Hungerford, Alexis Maniscalco, Grace Graham and Emilee Smart bring back the most varsity experience. Head coach Britney Knight likes what she sees in juniors Tianna Barnett, Kiara Cross, Ashley Gibbons, sophomore McKinley Stotts and freshman Skylar Bea, but said it’s going to take time for them to develop.

“We have to build those players up to take that shot with confidence and knock that shot down. There are going to be mistakes, and that’s OK. We’ll roll with it and we’ll teach them what they need to learn,” Knight said. “I just want them to go out and play hard every game. That’s my goal for them. Crash the boards hard. Be the first to the loose ball.”

Knight takes over for a program that has been to the Sun Dome the last two years, and finished fourth at state in 2016. She is confident the Panthers can make it three in a row, especially with Beyonce Bea as the centerpiece.

“She does a really good job of finding her teammates and encouraging them to get involved,” Knight said. “She’s a smart player. She knows when defenses are collapsing on her. If she’s being double-teamed, she can always find that open teammate.”

Although she says it’s too early to tell, Knight believes Columbia River, Mark Morris and Woodland should contend with Washougal for the league title but she is not about to count out Hockinson, Ridgefield or R.A. Long.

“Something we talked about is not underestimating who we are playing. When we underestimate, we come out a little bit slower,” Knight said. “Moving forward, we have to change that mentality. Just know that there is a big target on us this year.”

The Panthers appear to be gaining confidence and mental toughness with each game. Knight encourages them to keep grinding every day.

“I think that once we get everything figured out, we can be unstoppable,” she said. “I’ve seen it in short stints. I think once they figure that out, it’s going to click. It’s all going to come together.”