Aniyah Hampton eyes wandered during P.E. class at the banners that decorate the rafters at Hudson’s Bay — one of Vancouver’s older high schools — and something striking stood out.
She wondered: where are the ones that say “girls basketball”?
Hampton filed the thought away in her head. But this week, it’s particularly prescient. After winning three elimination games in as many days last week to nab the fifth and final bid, the Eagles girls basketball team became only the second girls basketball team in program history reach the state tournament (first since 2007).
And Hampton, a freshman, is their leader on the court, averaging 18 points per game in the regular season (second-highest in Southwest Washington).
The previous trip to the 3A state tournament ended in the quarterfinals at the Tacoma Dome, and was led by eventual BYU guard Jasmine Foreman.
This time? Hampton leads a trio of underclassmen, alongside sophomores Jaydia Martin (13.6 points per game) and Kamelai Powell (11.9) who make the Eagles’ engine go.
Though striking that perhaps the youngest team in Southwest Washington is one of the few remaining approaching the regional round, in which Bay plays Roosevelt at Garfield High School in Seattle on Saturday, it’s not often a topic of conversation among the team.
“Unless it’s brought up,” Powell said.
Eagles coach Michael Rainville pointed out Hampton and Martin are young for their grade, too.
“It’s experience,” Rainville said. “There’s plenty of girls at Bay and other schools that have worse skills than many sixth graders. It’s not your age, it’s your skill level.”
It’s Rainville’s most experienced team in three years at Hudson’s Bay. After more than 20 years coaching at Etna, a school in Northern California with an enrollment of around 250, he brought four sectional championships and a “handful” of league championships to Bay. He inherited a team coming off a winless season, and in his first year, the team won just two games.
“We’re not the same Bay we used to be,” Rainville said. “They’ve come a long way.”
Hampton may not play like most freshmen, but she still had the new student jitters at the start of the school year. That’s when Martin, Powell and sophomore Anastacia Mikaele, who knew Hampton previously from middle school, stepped in as de-facto tour guides.
Each took turns walking Hampton to class, introducing her to teachers and making sure she felt welcome.
“I kind of look at her as a little sister,” Powell said. “It was necessary to make sure she knew where she needed to be and was just familiar and comfortable with things. That was a priority.”
Added Martin: “She’s going to be on the team, we all have to have each other’s backs.”
Martin and Powell knew what kind of basketball player Hampton was, too. And coming off of a freshman season where they went 13-9 and finished third in the 3A GSHL with Powell and Martin carrying a most of the load, they knew how much Hampton would be able to help the team.
The biggest difference, they say, is having a primary ball-handler. Martin slid from an off-ball guard/forward into the point position as a freshman, which left her susceptible to presses and traps. With Hampton, who assumed point guard duties, that became much harder for defenses.
“Add Aniyah in there, who is just superior as a ball-handler, one of the best freshman I’ve ever seen, she sees the court. … Having two of them just makes a huge difference,” Rainville said. “You can’t press them anymore. Teams who have pressed us have not done it very long.”
The Eagles went 8-2, finished second in the 3A GSHL and gave No. 1 Prairie its closest league game. They’ve won eight of their last 10 games — a trend it hopes to carry past the regional round.
After this year, Bay’s nucleus of underclassmen indicates the Eagles may be just getting started.
“I feel like there’s a lot of people waiting on us to lose momentum,” Powell said. “But we’re soaring right now, there’s only one way to go and that’s up. We have doubters and people who don’t believe in us, the don’t see us as a threat and they think we’ll start coasting at some point. I cannot wait to prove all those people wrong.”