Chemistry is the formula for success for Auburn Mountainview girls basketball

Allison Hammer elevates for a bucket against Lincoln during the West Central District III/Southwest District 4 tournament. - Tracy Arnold/for the Reporter
Allison Hammer elevates for a bucket against Lincoln during the West Central District III/Southwest District 4 tournament.
— image credit: Tracy Arnold/for the Reporter

With the Auburn Mountainview girls basketball team's biggest game of the season looming on the horizon, there is just one thing on the girls' minds: playing together for one more week.

At 6 p.m. Saturday the Lions take on No. 4 ranked Sunnyside (20-3) at Eisenhower High School in Yakima in the Washington State 3A Regional Girls Basketball Tournament. At stake in the loser-out game — a chance to take the floor at the Washington State Hardwood Classic 3A Girls Basketball Championships, March 6-8 at the Tacoma Dome.

"They're ready," said first-year head coach Dustin DePiano. "They just want to keep playing. They're so loose. I told them after the game on Saturday that my favorite thing about winning that game was just that we get another week together. I think we all feel that way. That's why we're going to work and get together for this Saturday, because a win means another week together."

And for the Lions, it's all about togetherness and team chemistry. It's how they earned the shot to play for a berth into the state tourney.

The Lions (20-5) earned their berth in regionals this past Saturday with a 51-47 win over South Puget Sound League 3A rival Bonney Lake (18-8).

Senior Samantha DePiano led the way in that contest with a 12-point performance, sophomore Briana Zargoza-Jones added 10 and senior Allison Hammer chipped in with nine points.

The real reason for the Lions' success this year, however, is rooted in the team's finish last season.

"I think ever since the end of last season we've had this in mind and knew how far we wanted to go," said Samantha DePiano, a 5 foot, 4 inch guard.

"I thought we'd get this far because we worked really hard over the summer," Lion 5-7 forward Hammer agreed. "We only lost one senior from last year, and she [Aly Carr] tore her ACL toward the end of the season. So we kind of started building this team then."

Auburn Mountainview cemented their team chemistry this season in December at the Surf N' Slam basketball tournament in San Diego, where the Lions won their division with a 4-0 record.

"There was a couple close games, but we really came together as a team," Coach DePiano said. "We were together as a team for five or six days, really just having fun. We went to Disneyland and the beach. Things like that. We became a team at that point, and we knew we could win some games."

"We got down there and it was a really good experience because it was the first time we were able to just focus on being a team and coming together," Hammer said. "We didn't play well the first or second game, but everything came together in the championship game. That's when we realized if we worked hard, we could reach our full potential."

"Winning in San Diego made the dream real, I guess," said Samantha DePiano.

The Lions battled their way though the SPSL 3A regular season, finishing first with a 9-1 league record and moving into the postseason.

"That was definitely a goal," Coach DePiano said. "As the season went on, it become something we could do. At this point it's easy to say we expected it. But I'm really impressed by them, so I don't want to downplay it by saying it was expected. I'm really impressed by what they did to get to this point."

Although team chemistry played a crucial role, the continued improvement of several of the team's athletes also played a part, Coach DePiano said.

"We don't talk about it a ton, because we like to stick to the concept of team, but their individual improvement has been huge. There are a couple of kids that are absolutely better basketball players than they were last year at this time. The work they put in, it's not just that we're a great team in terms of chemistry, we're becoming a great team with a lot of talented players."

This week, the team enjoyed a rare break. After playing three games a week, sometimes more, the Lions have a week to concentrate on preparing for Sunnyside.

"It's a nice break to give our legs a rest," Hammer said. "After playing Wednesday, Friday and Saturday they needed a break."

"It's weird, it definitely makes the anticipation even greater, but I think we're all ready and focused," Samantha DePiano said.

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