Skyview girls basketball team rallies to McDonagh's defense

Humble senior leads by example in Storm's defense-first approach

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

Two senior leaders answered immediately.

One senior leader just sat quietly on the Skyview gym floor.

Jocelyn Adams and Aubrey Ward-El, without hesitation, said Stephanie McDonagh is the best defensive player on the team.

4A state tournament

Skyview vs. Gonzaga Prep,

10:30 a.m. today at Tacoma Dome.

The game can be watched via video webcast at wiaa.com for a fee. Fans can also listen for free at carlclick.com or elisportsnetwork.com

McDonagh smiled.

She is humble, and she can be quiet off the court.

On the court, her game roars.

McDonagh wants to guard the other team's best players. She is good for four, five, sometimes more steals per game, either from poking the ball away from her opponent or getting into the passing lanes, knowing when to seek out the basketball.

"It's just instinct," McDonagh said. "You have to anticipate what they are going to do. You can pick up on their little moves or passes. And it's hard work. You have to keep moving."

All of the Skyview Storm are committed to defense. It is the foundation of coach Jennifer Buscher's program. The Skyview defense, led by McDonagh, is the key to this season's 24-2 record and a spot in the elite eight.

Skyview will take on Gonzaga Prep of Spokane at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A state girls basketball tournament at the Tacoma Dome. While the Storm have been known to score in bunches, they take more pride in their defense.

Last week in the regionals, Skyview held a sweet 16 team to single-digit scoring in three of the four quarters. Newport of Bellevue did manage to score 10 points in the second quarter. With Skyview's defense in shutdown mode, Newport had no chance. Final score: 62-31.

While McDonagh gets most of the steals, she is the first to tell you that it really is a team thing. It comes down to that work mentality, too.

"You can't control every shot, but you can control some things," McDonagh said. "I'm going to run after every ball. I'm going to dive for every loose ball."

The Storm philosophy is summed up in this phrase: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.

"That's defense," McDonagh said.

With that, the Storm can turn defense into offense.

Ward-El said she and her teammates can be more aggressive on defense because they trust each other.

"We know how each other plays and what we are capable of," Ward-El said. "We do take more chances when we're out there with these people we make special plays with."

Communication is key.

"Help."

"Deny."

"Hey. Hey. Hey."

If someone gets beat -- and it happens to every basketball player -- there is a back-up plan.

Now in her fourth year as the head coach, Buscher said the foundation of the program is to ensure her players work harder than the opponent. If the Storm get beat, it won't be for a lack of effort, of sluggishness.

"To get kids to love defense has been one of the keys to our success," Buscher said, adding that most of her players would say they prefer defense over offense.

Hannahjoy Adams, a junior guard who McDonagh says is the best defensive player on the team, will be asked to score more next year. This year, she understands her role.

"I'm not needed to score. That just makes me want to play better defense," Hannahjoy Adams said.

Buscher loves that attitude.

Of course, it all starts with the seniors who have already won a state title. Ward-El, McDonagh, and Jocelyn Adams were instrumental in the team's 2012 championship. If they are working so hard on defense, the rest of the Storm have to follow.

"Stephanie is definitely our motor," Buscher said. "She feels a lot of satisfaction in locking down opponents."

Skyview learned of its first-round opponent at Sunday's draw. Long before the team's first practice this week on Monday, McDonagh sent her coach a text message.

"Who am I matched up against?" she asked Buscher.

Defense is always on McDonagh's mind.

With this team, that philosophy is contagious.