KINGSTON — Karleigh Gomez still remembers what it was like as a child to get on the basketball court and how excited she was to make a shot or learn to dribble with her left hand.
Fast forward to her senior season at Kingston, and the Buccaneers guard still has that excitement whenever she has the ball in her hands.
Gomez grew up in Little Boston and played basketball with friends and older kids whenever they could. She began playing organized ball for the parks and recreation department and Joe Schiel.
“I just remember my first practice, and I was just trying to get out there and shoot some three’s, ‘Yeah, I made it!’” Gomez said. “Now it’s second nature.”
When she turned 16, she was old enough to go to the gym and play against the adults and older teenagers.
“I go out there to the Y in Silverdale, the Suquamish gym and I play in a lot of native tournaments up to Bellingham, Puyallup stuff like that,” she said.
A royal appreciation for her heritage
Gomez is part of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.
Even though basketball takes up a large part of her life, she will proudly represent her tribe as Senior Princess for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Royalty.
Gomez, who had studied her native language for five years, goes to pow-wows and coastal events as well as the famous canoe journey every summer.
“We greet the canoes that come in and land, and this year we’re going to Puyallup and be able to go to the dinner and represent (our tribe) on the dance floor.”
Gomez started dancing in pre-school as it was part of the school’s curriculum. Along with learning names of animals, colors, numbers like every child learning another child Gomez said she’s become more grateful to learn it.
“It’s so sacred,” she said of the S’Klallam language. “It was taken away for so long, and it’s a blessing to have it.”
Gomez said there’s definitely a different vibe when playing tribal ball versus high school. There’s a lot more freewheeling on the court rather than designed plays for the Buccaneers.
“Everything is more tenacious in those tournaments,” she said.
It’s a style of play that Gomez likes.
“It’s awesome though, I love it.”
Growing into a leader
Playing for Kingston lets Gomez focus more on her team and coming together for a common goal. The two different brands of basketball allow the 5-foot-8 Gomez to explore her competitive side.
She spent time on varsity and junior varsity her freshman season, along with current teammate Avy Hiner. Gomez had plenty of players to look up to as an underclassman, and she now relishes the role of leading the younger players through her actions.
That meant showing up for all the workouts, practices and weight-training sessions.
“We all try to do our best to set examples,” she said.
Kingston coach Charles Deem said Gomez upped her game from the start of the season and has played more aggressive.
“She’s always been capable of it,” he said. “To me the difference now and the difference then is that she’s constantly looking to attack and kind of be out there and do something every once in a while, then pull back for a while.
“Now she’s the focal point. In order for us to be good, she has to keep doing those things.”
Deem said Gomez has the green light to shoot, and she can hit from anywhere on the court, and drive down the lane.
“Get creative,” he said.
Gomez said the freshmen class has been outstanding and they’ve all bonded. There’s been little if any, off-the-court drama.
“It’s like a brotherhood,” she said. “That’s what we call it.”
Gomez, who averaged 12.3 points in 20 games for the Bucs, said she’s looking at Grays Harbor College and has drawn interest from Olympic College, where she’s a Running Start student. She can see the game remaining in her future. When Facebook memories pop up on her timeline, and they all seem to revolve around basketball, whether she’s watching, practicing or playing, she’s not surprised. Gomez spends three afternoons a week at practice with games twice a week and then plays on weekends.
“If we don’t have practice during winter break I’ll go to open gym in Suquamish or something,” she said. “Basically I’m always doing something involved around basketball.”
Gomez said she’ll know when to call it quits when she’s not having fun anymore.
“If you’re not having fun doing something you love then it’s really just bringing you down,” she said.
West Central District Girls 2A
- Who: Kingston at Steilacoom, Olympic at Eatonville, Franklin Pierce at North Kitsap
- When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
- What’s at stake: The district is a double-elimination tournament ending on Feb. 17. There are five berths available to regionals. If North wins the Vikings will face Renton Friday at Renton, 7 p.m. Olympic wins and the Trojans will play at Fife Friday at 7 and a win by Kingston puts the Bucs into a second-round game at No. 1 White River Friday at 7 p.m. A first-round loss by any of the three and they will play loser-out games Feb. 13 at various locations at either 6 p.m. or 7:45 p.m.