The Seahawks picked up their first league championship in four years February 3 by beating the Gig Harbor Tides 65-23, completing a 13-1 season in the 3A South Sound League (18-3 overall).
But before that last game of the regular season, with the SSL title on the line against their cross-town rivals and a shot at being the No. 1 seed in the district playoffs, Seahawks first-year coach Hannah Lekson was thinking about nets.
It’s a long-standing basketball tradition to cut down the nets from the basketball hoops after winning a championship.
“I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, but realistically I had no idea what kind to get or where to order them,” Lekson said. “I sent a text to (Seahawks boys coach) Sean Muilenburg to ask him, and he said, ‘I already ordered them, so go cut them down!’ ”
The Seahawks picked up their third-straight win over their crosstown rivals and the second in less than a week February 10 when they beat the Tides again 62-47 in the first round of the 3A SSL West Central/Southwest bi-district tournament.
It was a loud celebration in an otherwise empty gym.
Family and fans weren’t allowed to attend the district game, which was played only in front of school administrators after Peninsula School District Superintendent Krestin Bahr closed the PHS campus that night to “prioritize students’ safety and well-being.”
The fan-ban came after the teams first met January 11 for the always popular and intense annual “Fish Basket.” During that game, which Peninsula won 59-51, a Gig Harbor player allegedly leveled a racist comment at a Seahawk. The tension between the two schools became so thick PSD closed the doors to family and fans when the two teams met again.
There’s an ongoing independent investigation into the incident.
“It was strange,” Lekson said about playing in an empty gym. “I’ve never experienced that before. Even when I was 5 years old, I had at least parents watch.”
In lieu of crowd noise, the Seahawks made a loud statement early on.
Peninsula outscored the Tides 27-13 in the first quarter, including four three pointers in the first four minutes, and took a 20-point lead into halftime, 39-19. The Tides outscored the Seahawks in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the halftime deficit.
“The energy was different, but my girls were ready to take care of business,” Lekson said. “It was still a positive atmosphere.”
The team was led by what Lekson called her “three-headed monster” of senior Brooke Zimmerman (13 points per game during the season, 9.5 rebounds per game, 1.5 blocks per game), junior Kaylia Heidelberg (18.7 points per game, 4.6 rebounds) and sophomore Grace Richardson (11.3 points per game, 6.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists).
“We’re going to face adversity on and off the court,” Lekson told her team early on. “One of the biggest components is being mentally tough and taking the high-road.”
The Seahawks showcased an offense all season that was impressive and a defense that was aggressive. They averaged more than 58 points per game with a good amount coming from second-chances. The team averaged 14 offensive rebounds. Lekson is a defensive-minded coach and that translated into her team forcing more than 12 turnovers per game.
“The other team can’t win if they don’t score,” she said. “I tell my girls to get uncomfortably close (to their opponents) and apply a crazy amount of pressure. When we do, we’re in control.”
Lekson said she’s most proud of her team for how they handled themselves during the ups and downs of the season.
“Watching them completely lean into each other and support each other is so much more important than winning,” Lekson said. “It was beautiful to see.”
Talk about resiliency. Since the alleged incident, the Seahawks went 9-1, including winning seven straight games by an average of 32 points.
“As an adult you think you’ll be able to teach these girls so much,” Lekson said. “I’m amazed at what they’ve taught me.”
You can see it on the sidelines, and you can hear it in her voice. Lekson is just excited to be a part of this team and these girls’ lives.
“I’m so thankful I took this job. I wake up sometimes and think, ‘I’m just so happy,’ ” she said. “These girls have made such an impact on me. I smile ear-to-ear when I see them in the gym.”
The bad news for the Seahawks is they lose Zimmerman and Sophie Casello to graduation after this season. The good news? The South Sound League will once again have to deal with the likes of Heidelberg, Richardson, Daisy Peay and Samantha Karjala next year.
Lekson plans to use the summer to cultivate the culture she’s building at the high school. The Seahawks will play in a couple of tournaments and head to some team camps. She said she’s excited to work with Coach Muilenburg to host camps for future student-athletes.
Lekson said it before the start of the season and again at the end: “This isn’t Peninsula High School basketball. It’s Peninsula basketball.”
The Seahawks face the North Thurston Rams February 15 at Auburn High School. The Seahawks beat them in season play 59-37 January 25, but the teams are nearly tied overall in the conference, 18-3 Seahawks to 17-3 Rams.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS