A Panther First

Washougal girls basketball wins league championship following undefeated season

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Britney Knotts, Washougal's head girls basketball coach, twirls a piece of the net after the program's first-ever undefeated league season.

The Washougal High girls basketball team made history even before the postseason started by wrapping up the program’s first-ever undefeated league season with a 66-27 victory over the Columbia River Chieftains at a home game, Feb. 5.

Prior to tip-off, the always passionate home crowd honored the team’s three seniors, who have been a huge part of developing the Washougal girls basketball program into the regional powerhouse it is today.

Washougal seniors Beyonce Bea, Kiara Cross and Ashley Gibbons have been playing basketball together since elementary school. Before the Feb. 5 game, the girls’ fans honored the three seniors long list of individual and team accomplishments with flowers, balloons and roaring applause.

“It was awesome because these girls and my family are all such a big part of my basketball career,” Beyonce Bea said.

The oldest Bea on the team — she has has three other relatives playing on the varsity squad — Beyonce Bea is the school’s all-time leading scorer and will play Division I basketball for the University of Idaho next season.

Point guard Kiara Cross, best known for her tenacious defense and breaking the school record in drawing charging calls, was emotional after the historic win on Feb. 5.

“Me and Beyonce and Ashley have played together for so long, it really seems like yesterday that we were playing hotshot basketball together,” Cross said. “I can’t believe it’s almost over.” Forward Ashley Gibbons, an offensive player who is not afraid to play scrappy defense, got choked up talking about her teammates.

“It’s so emotional, because I’ve played with them for so long,” Gibbons said. “Honestly, I can’t imagine playing basketball without them on the court.”

Breaking full-court press key to victory

Once the game started, the Columbia River Chieftains, in second place in league behind the Panthers, hit the court with an intense, full-court defensive press.

It appeared to work as the Chieftains took an early lead after Washougal rushed a few passes, resulting in a few easy buckets for the Chieftains.

With two minutes left in the first quarter, something clicked and the Panthers started breaking the press and scoring.

“We just looked at it and said, ‘Hey we just practiced against this a couple of nights ago.’ We knew where everybody needed to go, how to cut hard and how to be patient,” Cross said.

For seniors, the intense full-court press was a reminder of what happened last year at the state tournament in Yakima, Washington, during an opening-round loss to the Lynden Christian Lynx.

The defending state champions last season, the Lynx deployed a full-court press that threw the Panthers off their game, something this year’s Washougal seniors have worked to prepare for.

“We’re better, but it’s something we can improve on, to make sure everyone helps out whoever has the ball so we can get through the press,” Beyonce Bea said.

Celebrating the league championship

After figuring out the press, freshman Jaiden Bea — Beyonce’s first cousin — started hitting outside jumpers and sophomore Skylar Bea — Beyonce’s sister — chased down offensive rebounds with her older sister.

In the Bea family, Jaiden scored 15 points, Beyonce added 13 and Skylar had 11 in a balanced Panther scoring attack.

Following the game, the team celebrated the program’s first undefeated league championship by cutting down the net and keeping pieces as souvenirs.

“It was really special. We’ve worked hard to get to this point and it was a goal all year to be undefeated league champs,” Beyonce Bea said. “I was super proud of our team and how we finished strong.”

The team’s first playoff game, against Rochester High, was rescheduled due to snow and set to take place on Feb. 12.

The snowstorm created challenges for the Panthers over the weekend, as some players could not make it to practice, so parents with 4×4 vehicles stepped in to make sure every player got to the gym.

“It’s definitely been challenging, because some players had a hard time getting out of their driveways,” Beyonce Bea said. “But we’ve all made it to shoot-arounds, and we’re also refreshing our memories on plays.”

The Panthers may have already reached their goal of an undefeated league championship, but they have several more goals to achieve as they enter the postseason.

The biggest goal of all is winning a state trophy — something three Washougal seniors have been dreaming about longer than they can remember.