Hazen girls basketball program in first state tourney in 18 years

April 9, 2009

By Jim Feehan

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Hazen’s girls basketball team made it to the 3A state tournament last month for the first time since 1991. While the Highlanders lost its two games at the Tacoma Dome, Hazen coach Jeff Bernhardt doesn’t anticipate another 18-year state tournament drought.

“For a team that starts a sophomore, a freshman and a junior and really has three seniors, this is the maraschino on a great season,” Bernhardt said. “We have raised the bar for this program. I expect to be back here next year and the year after that.”

At the beginning of the year, Bernhardt said the Highlanders were expected to finish no higher than fourth in the Seamount League — behind Lindbergh, Mount Rainier and Kennedy. 

The Hazen Highlanders girls basketball team rallies at center court as their first state tournament appearance in 18 years gets under way. By Greg Farrar

The Hazen Highlanders girls basketball team rallies at center court as their first state tournament appearance in 18 years gets under way. By Greg Farrar

Hazen finished third in the league with an 11-5 record. On Feb. 20, the Highlanders beat Enumclaw 44-42 in a Seamount/South Puget Sound League playoff game. Five days later, Hazen narrowly lost to top 10-powerhouse White River, 71-66. 

On Feb. 27, Hazen downed Columbia River 57-41 in a West Central/Southwest 3A bi-district game. Freshman Airashay Rogers led Hazen in scoring, with 26 points. The freshman guard averaged 25 points per game in Hazen’s three playoff games this postseason.

On March 6, Rogers hit a 3-pointer as time expired to give Hazen a 46-44 win against Bonney Lake. The victory sent the Highlanders to the state 3A tournament.

Hazen drew Lakeside, a five-time state champion, for its first match at the Tacoma Dome. With less than a minute to go, the Highlanders gave away a one-point lead with a turnover under its own basket, but then Hazen got three chances on its next trip down the floor to win the game. 

Hazen took the ball out of bounds and tried to get it to Darralita Taylor. Lakeside’s Morgan Merriman intercepted the pass and laid it back to give the Lions a 33-32 lead with 43 seconds to play.

Prior to Merriman’s basket, Hazen outscored Lakeside 6-0 to come back from a 31-26 deficit.

On the next possession, Hazen turned the ball over. The Highlanders’ Michelle Wnek got it back on a steal in the backcourt with 28 seconds. Bernhardt then called a timeout. 

When play resumed, Rogers traveled. She then stole a pass. After another timeout, Rogers drove for a lay-up, missed and was called for an offensive foul. Lakeside’s Madeline Barnes responded by hitting two clutch free throws with nine seconds to play to make it 35-32.

Hazen then took its final timeout. With 2.9 seconds remaining, Hazen’s Gina Kirklin missed a 3-pointer from the right baseline.

Rogers led Hazen with 13 points and Taylor scored 7. Molly Levine was Lakeside’s top scorer with nine points; Merriman added eight points and eight rebounds.

In the Highlanders’ second game against Hanford, Rogers scored 15 straight points for the Highlanders as Hazen took a 34-29 lead early in the fourth quarter. But the Falcons went on a 9-0 run and clinched the victory on McKenzie Snow’s 3-point play with 36 seconds to play.

Hanford won 49-40. Hazen finished its season 16-10.

Laura Hughes led Hanford with 16 points. Rogers finished with a game-high 22 points for Hazen.

“I was very excited to play in the state tournament, because I’m only a freshman,” Rogers said. “I found it very exciting to get my seniors to state for the first time in 18 years.”

Rogers averaged 19 points a game for Hazen and was named first-team All-Seamount League. 

Hazen’s senior post player Taylor said the team fought hard in both games.

“I hope they come back next year, because I’ll be watching them,” she said.

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