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News / Sports / Prep Sports

Washougal’s latest hoops family: Albaugh sister trio sets tone for Panthers girls basketball team

Bella, Ireland and Lucy Albaugh bring hard work, humility, leadership to program

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 16, 2023, 6:05am

WASHOUGAL — Establishing the identity of this year’s Washougal girls basketball team began with a family.

A trio of sisters on the Panthers’ varsity roster — senior twins Bella and Ireland Albaugh, and younger sister Lucy Albaugh, a junior — each fulfill different roles and bring unique components to the program.

Yet the three also share common traits that, according to Washougal head coach Tim Melcher, serve as a model for the rest of the team to follow.

“The humility, the work ethic, the leadership, it’s contagious within the program,” he said.

The Albaughs have an inherent bond as siblings that extends to basketball, and for the first time in recent memory, all three are playing together on a Washougal team that hopes to contend for a playoff spot out of the 2A Greater St. Helens League.

“It’s kind of just like a three in one: sister, teammate, friend,” said Ireland Albaugh, who also goes by “Landy.”

The Panthers have a prolific offensive player in Bella Albaugh, a driven, unassuming senior who most recently exploded for 38 points in a Dec. 1 game against Tumwater, the second highest single-game scoring figure in program history.

Ireland Albaugh is the most outspoken of the group, a vocal leader who Melcher calls the “heart and soul” of the team. She returned to game action earlier this month after recovering from the latest in a string of ankle injuries.

After splitting time between JV and varsity as a sophomore, Lucy Albaugh has become one of the team’s top reserves, providing toughness, scoring and athleticism off the bench.

“I think because we’re sisters, we kind of have this competitive nature that pushes each other to get better,” Bella said. “We’re always trying to … kind of one-up each other, so I feel like that helps us work harder on our own. Even outside of practice, we’re still working on ball-handling, getting shots up, making sure if one of us goes, we’re all going out to do extra practice.”

The setting for some of the sisters’ earliest memories playing basketball was the hoop in their front yard where they played one-on-one against each other.

They gravitated toward the sport from their dad, Adam Albaugh, who coached their youth teams from elementary school onward and continues to coach them.

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“It also helps our bond off the court,” Ireland said. “Basketball is like a common thing for us. We can relate to each other on that level and how we feel about basketball, because we all love it.”

Another common thread Melcher sees among all three is hard work. The sisters take initiative to plan workouts for themselves and hold each other accountable to stay on course.

None play on club teams outside of the winter high school season, which allowed all three to spend the spring, summer and fall working with Washougal teammates to build cohesion on the court.

“We had a workout plan and made sure to get out and do them and stay committed to those,” said Bella, a reigning all-league first team player. “Because as a senior, I know this is my last season. I definitely kept that in mind every single workout session to put 100 percent into it, so I can make it my best, put all my work into this last season (and) finish strong.”

While twins Bella and Ireland, who were voted co-captains by teammates this year, have played together nearly every step of the way, Lucy was on the fence about trying out as a sophomore for the 2022-23 season. Also a volleyball player, she was unsure if she had the drive to continue with basketball.

But with some subtle urging from her sisters, she realized she wanted to continue playing with them for their last two years of high school. From one season to the next, she feels a growing sense of confidence as a player and a leader.

“It’s their senior year and I want to be able to spend the most time with them,” Lucy said of her sisters. “It’s been a while, because last year I was a swing so I didn’t get to play (varsity) as much and Landy got injured. So with that, it’s just such a good feeling, I just love playing with them, being with them and being able to share court time.”

Lucy’s jump to varsity was one piece of the puzzle, along with Ireland’s return from a host of ankle injuries, to join Bella this season.

Ireland’s junior year was cut short by a left ankle injury that tore two ligaments completely.

While working her way back from that injury, she suffered a right ankle sprain during Washougal’s summer program, and later sprained her left ankle while playing in the fall. She’s gone through so much physical therapy, and now wears bionic braces on both ankles.

For the time being, all three are playing and contributing for the Panthers. On certain nights, like a game earlier this week against Hudson’s Bay, the trio will share the court together. Though those moments don’t happen all too often, when they do, it’s an “unmatched” feeling Bella said.

“We have chemistry on the court. I love it,” she said. “We hype each other up. We’re also very honest with each other, which I love, because it helps us get better, of course.”

“It just kind of feels like everything fell into place,” Ireland added. “Me being able to come back, Lucy staying with us and us fighting through all that stuff. I just think that it really means a lot to me that I can spend my last year playing basketball with my two sisters and just play our hearts out. … It just means so much, like, I don’t even tell them, but it means a lot to me. It does.”