Girls Basketball | Ballard thinking big
A champion of positive thinking, even Karen Blair occasionally doubted herself. Perhaps she wasn't trying hard enough. Or perhaps this was...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Scores & stats
A champion of positive thinking, even Karen Blair occasionally doubted herself. Perhaps she wasn't trying hard enough. Or perhaps this was a lost cause.
Almost two years into her tenure as Ballard girls basketball coach, Blair already had half the number of losses she endured in 11 years as coach at Meadowdale. What progress the Beavers made in practice often vanished at tipoff.
So, late last season, in a quiet locker room after a loss, Blair pleaded to her team.
"How's this working for you?" she asked. "Are you having fun doing it your way and losing all the time? Why don't we try it my way, and then if we lose, at least I can take the blame."
From that evening on, she noticed an immediate difference. Ballard closed the season playing with the relentless, pressure man-to-man defense that Blair's state-championship teams at Meadowdale trademarked. In the district tournament, Ballard upset Inglemoor, the second-seeded team in KingCo 4A, to reach rarefied air for the Beavers: a winner-to-state game.
"People were stunned when we started winning games," senior Molly Magee said, laughing. "It was kind of embarrassing."
They didn't make it to state last season, and their run wasn't enough to salvage a winning record. But it's that pivotal moment Blair points to now, with the Beavers 10-1 and ranked fifth in the state in Class 4A.
"Basically," senior point guard Kayla Williams said, "what it comes down to is, if we do it her way, we win."
Three years after she resigned from Meadowdale, Blair has pushed Ballard, never known for girls basketball success, into a tie with Roosevelt atop the KingCo 4A Mountain Division.
"It was just a matter of time before she turned that program around," said Bill Resler, former Roosevelt coach.
Blair left Meadowdale, her alma mater, in May 2005, frustrated with how school administrators handled parental complaints. With a 255-39 record and two state championships at the Lynnwood school, Blair immediately had suitors from all over the area.
She chose Ballard for one major reason. The pamphlet Ballard hands out to each athlete's parents clearly states the parents must first take any issues directly to the coach.
"I was looking for something where I could feel secure as a coach," she said. "I just kind of looked at it as an opportunity to start fresh."
But she had yet to realize what kind of challenge was ahead. The Beavers had never been to the state tournament, and never thought they had a chance.
"When Karen came in, there was an expectation," said senior guard Evangeline Spracklin.
Blair called her first Ballard practice "scary" and "an eye-opener." She realized she would have to start almost from scratch.
"My understanding of the things that are fundamentals and what these girls had were totally different," Blair said. "I thought, 'Wait a minute, I better back it up four steps.' "
In her first two years, the Beavers went 22-24. The losses hit Blair hard. But she knew she had established fundamentals — and a foundation, adding Ballard's first freshman team.
"We started to get more of an influx of players," associate head coach Bryan Howisey said. "People wanted to be a part of the team."
After their strong finish last season, Ballard's confidence sprouted when it won a spring league and played well in summer tournaments. The girls started talking about going to state. For the first time, their expectations passed those of their coach.
Meanwhile, almost 5,000 miles away, Jeanette Hansen, a 6-foot-5 student in Copenhagen, Denmark, needed to bump up her English grade. A year studying in the United States would be a quick fix. So she signed up for an exchange program, and in August she landed at Ballard as the inside threat the Beavers were missing.
"We knew that we could do this, but it wasn't real for us until Jeanette came," said Williams, the team's leading scorer. "But it's never really real until you start winning."
The Beavers won 10 consecutive games to start the season, none more significant than a 50-26 victory against Roosevelt on Dec. 14. In front of the largest crowd anyone at Ballard has ever seen for a girls basketball game, Ballard dominated the Roughriders, last year's KingCo champions.
"It just reaffirmed what I'm doing," Blair said. "It showed that they started to believe in me more."
Tom Wyrwich: 206-515-5653 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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