Panther girls setting high expectations

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The Panthers' returning starters are pictured left to right: senior Ashley Gibbons, sophomore Skylar Bea, senior Beyonce Bea, senior Kiarra Cross and junior Mckinley Stotts.

When you enter the front doors at Washougal High School, you see cases filled with a variety of gold trophies calling out the achievements of the school’s many athletic teams. The one exception seems to be basketball. And that’s something the Washougal girls basketball team plans to change this year.

“We all have high expectations,” the team’s star player, the 6’1″ Beyonce Bea, said.

In fact, state trophy expectations at Washougal have never been higher since this year’s team is made up of experienced players who have gone to state every year they’ve played high school hoops.

“You know, four years in a row at state is awesome,” Bea said. “But this year we don’t want to just make it to state, we want a trophy.”

Bea, a senior who recently signed to play Division 1 women’s basketball for the University of Idaho, has been attracting large crowds to Washougal basketball games since she was a freshman. She has the unique ability to play any position on the floor at a high level, which is why she attracted scholarship offers from 12 universities before choosing Idaho.

“Her leadership ability is developing and is a work in progress, and it’s going to be a huge difference-maker for us,” Washougal’s head girls basketball coach Brittany Knox said of Bea.

Five starters return, hope for undefeated season

Bea’s supporting cast includes relatives and friends that have been playing basketball together and sharing dreams since they were in elementary school.

Seniors Ashley Gibbons and Kiarra Cross and Bea have played on teams together since they were third-graders.

“It’s kinda weird being a senior because it seems like it wasn’t that long ago when we were all freshmen,” Cross said.

The three senior starters are so close they can usually finish each other’s sentences, and they all share the goal of finishing high school with a state trophy.

“We’ve put a ton of work into it and still have a lot of work to do, but I think it’s all going to pay off and I’m really excited with this group,” Gibbons said.

Washougal High junior McKinley Stotts also grew up playing basketball with the three starting seniors, and said they all share a passion for hard work.

Over the summer, Stotts, Gibbons, Cross and Bea played on elite American Basketball Association (ABA) club basketball teams that traveled to tournaments across the nation, including Chicago, Kentucky and Las Vegas.

“I really want to go undefeated this season, and I expect a state championship because we have all five starters back,” Stotts said.

Rounding out the starting five from last season is Beyonce Bea’s younger sister, Skylar Bea. The 5’11” sophomore is one of the team’s top rebounders and enjoys playing down low in the post, but can also shoot well from mid range. Skylar Bea credited her older sister for helping her learn the game at an early age.

“(Beyonce) plays really good defense on me, so it’s pretty hard to get past her when we are playing one-on-one at home,” Skylar Bea said. “It really helps my game.”

While the team is loaded with experienced seniors, three freshmen made the varsity squad this season and all are expected to become big contributors.

Two of the freshmen — Jaden Bea and Savea Mansfield — are cousins and also related to Beyonce and Skylar Bea. The four girls have been playing basketball in the Bea family pole barn as long as any of them can remember.

“Jaden Bea is going to be big for us in terms of her intensity,” Knox said of her freshman player. “I mean, the girl just doesn’t stop, doesn’t quit.”

Sammy Mederos is another freshman who earned a spot on the varsity squad, and sophomore point guard Erin Miner also is expected to play a key role this season.

The bench may be young, but coach Knox said it is deeper than last season, and will give starters longer breaks so the team can focus on defense.

“We have experience and composure with our returning starters, and then we have fire and energy from the younger players,” Knox said.