Three-Peat Thunderbirds: Tumwater Beats W.F. West for Third Straight District Title


VANCOUVER — The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Nearly a year ago to the day, the Tumwater girls basketball team cut down the district nets in Longview. In the three-hundred and sixty-four days that followed, the T-Birds earned a No. 1 spot in the 2A state tournament, suffered back-to-back losses to go two-and-out, lost four starters to graduation, hired a new head coach, had the lone returner miss significant time with an injury, and briefly dropped out of the Associated Press rankings.

But Friday, the Thunderbirds were right back in the same spot, with first-year coach Nathan Buchheit up on a ladder cutting down the net at Hudson’s Bay after a 47-32 win over W.F. West for Tumwater’s third straight district title.

“We’re just continuing on the tradition at this point,” Buchheit said. “Ultimately, being able to continue on the tradition of the girls that graduated, that’s pretty special. I don’t think a lot of people thought this group was going to be able to do this. The fact that we did says a lot about these girls.”

It was a matchup that just about everyone in the district — at least in its northern half — saw coming, from just about the time the T-Birds edged out the Bearcats in Chehalis on Jan. 26, in the teams’ second game of the season. And just like every matchup between these two teams, it came down to a whole lot of defense and little in the way of offensive flow.

“At the end of the day, all I preach about, our identity is what we do on the defensive end,” Buchheit said. “The offensive side, that’s going to come and go. But as long as we’re playing the tough defense that we saw tonight, we’re going to be in games.”

Tumwater threw Kylie Waltermeyer — listed at 5-feet, 10-inches — at 6-foot-3 Julia Dalan in the low post, but as much of the defensive strategy had to do with not letting the Bearcats get her the ball at all. That started with Regan Brewer and the rest of the T-Bird guards leading a full-court press that forced 17 turnovers, and consistently forced W.F. West to use a third of the shot clock just getting the ball into the halfcourt. 

On the other end, W.F. West changed up its offense, going away from some of its usual motion and handoff looks, but couldn’t turn it into open shots for most of the night.

W.F. West took over four minutes before it could get Dalan a touch in the halfcourt. The sophomore still racked up a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double, but Tumwater held her to 2-of-7 shooting in the second half. As a team, the Bearcats shot 27% from the floor, and stayed in single digits in the three of the four quarters.

“It just came down to offensive execution and finding ways to score,” WFW coach Kyle Karnofksi said. “We got kind of stagnant and one-sided, and that kind of hurt us.”

Brewer racked up a double-double of her own, leading the T-Birds with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Waltermeyer — Tumwater’s only returning starter — added 13 points, taking control with nine points between the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth after W.F. West cut the deficit to a point at 29-28.

“We know there was going to be ups and downs in this game,” the senior said. “Chehalis is a great team, I’ll give them that for sure. But we weathered the storm, and that’s what we’ve got to do every time we play them.”

Once that storm passed, the Tumwater defense finished strong; W.F. West cut the deficit to five with a Lena Fragner floater with 6:45 to go in regulation, and then didn’t hit a field goal the rest of the way.

Now, both the Bearcats and Thunderbirds will go into Sunday’s bracket announcements with high hopes to earn a top-eight seed, which would guarantee them a trip to Yakima. 

W.F. West has spent just about the entire year at the top of most rankings, with their only two losses since the New Year coming to Tumwater.

“I don’t know where we’ll be seeding-wise,” Karnofski said. “I have an idea, but I’m not 100% sure. But wherever we end up, we’re going to compete, we’re going to do what we do, we’re going to play Bearcat basketball, and we’re going to try to make a run from here on out.”

For its part, Tumwater has the district nets hanging from its collective neck, and the Thunderbirds are undefeated since Waltermeyer returned to action midway through the season.

It’s not the same dominant Tumwater team that blew through the regular season last winter, with two Co-MVPs and three more all-league picks in its starting five. It’s a whole lot different of a look. But the T-Birds are rolling, and they’re fine with who they are.

“I think this team has no expectations,” Brewer said. “Last year’s team, they had a lot of pressure, people expected us to win State. This year, no expectations. We just come in here to play, and to compete.”