The Auburn Mountainview girls basketball team clinched the South Puget Sound League 3A title on Tuesday with a 61-55 league victory at Peninsula.
Allison Hammer and Briana Zaragoza-Jones led the Lions (8-1, 15-4) with 14 points apiece. Maddie Newell added 11 points.
Peninsula's (2-7, 5-13) Toni Helwig had a game-high 17 points.
Although few at the beginning of the season would have picked Auburn Mountainview as the favorite to win the SPSL 3A, rookie head coach Dustin DePiano said he's not surprised.
"I think other people might be surprised, but seeing the girls work hard every day in the summer, then in our practices to start the season, I expected them to do well," he said. "Having eight seniors, seven of them returning varsity players, certainly helps, too. Even if we didn't finish last year as we had hoped, these girls did gain a lot of experience, which has helped us along the way."
DePiano credits his team's unity on and off the court for its success this year.
"I've never been around a group that was more of a team than these girls," he said. "They work hard on the court, hang out off the court, and we have an insane amount of fun together as a team. They trust each other, play well together, and have never created even the slightest drama that can hurt a team. I don't think there are many teams like us around, and we're trying to make sure not to take that for granted. I genuinely think I'm the luckiest coach in the state, and I wouldn't trade jobs with anyone because of the girls I have this year."
Although the Lions still have one regular season game left, at 7 p.m. Friday at Decatur (0-8, 0-11).
After that, the girls prepare for the start of the postseason, which gets underway with a home contest at 7 p.m. Feb. 12 against the SPSL 3A third-place finisher. A win moves Auburn Mountainview on to a contest for the first and second seeds into the West Central District III tourney. A loss relegates the Lions to a battle for the third and fourth seeds. The WCD III district tourney begins Feb. 17 at Clover Park High School.
DePiano believes his team is ready for the challenges that come with stepping up to a higher level of competition.
"I think we're getting closer to being ready every day," he said. "We've gotten a lot of experience playing in close games and finding ways to win. The girls are resilient, it's them finding ways to grind out games that's getting us a lot further than anything I'm doing. I think our confidence is high right now, and they are ready to see how far this thing can go. We're a pretty loose team in terms of nerves and all that, so I think we just want to keep having fun and play together as long as possible."