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PUYALLUP — The wait was oh, so, worth it for the North Kitsap girls basketball team.

The Vikings from Poulsbo are headed to the state tournament for the first time since the 1987-88 season thanks to a 52-42 win over the Renton Indians Saturday in a Class 2A regional game at Rogers High.

North Kitsap will play Burlington-Edison at 9 a.m. Feb. 28 at the Yakima SunDome.

For seniors like Olivia Selembo, she’s had to listen to the stories of her friends on the boy’s team, which also secured its second straight trip to Yakima with a 68-50 win over Cheney Saturday, about playing at state.

North Kitsap’s Olivia Selembo steals the ball and runs down court against Renton’s Daiyona Thompson in a 52-42 win over the Indians at the 2A regional tournament Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018 at Rogers High.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

Selembo said she’s excited to find out which host sponsor they will have and what kind of free food they will have catered.

“The big thing was getting sponsored by one restaurant, and you could get whatever you want,” Selembo laughed. “People are treating you, they’re looking up to you and catering to you. It’s kind of nice to have a weekend where they’re just giving to you after this hard season where you work so hard and try and put out everything for your team.”

She knows Yakima has great Mexican fare and hopes to enjoy plenty of “Shirley Temple’s and nachos.”

North Kitsap coach Penny Gienger said the win was a culmination of four years of hard work and commitment given to her and the coaching staff from the seniors; Erin Pearson, Bea Beto, Katie Hughes, Lauren Weins, Hali Apilado and Selembo. Now they have a chance to play in Yakima and add a trophy. The 87-88 team finished in sixth place.

Lauren Weins of North Kitsap looks to the basket against Renton Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, at Rogers High. The Vikings beat Renton 52-42 to qualify for the 2A state tournament in Yakima.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

“I’m really excited, especially for my seniors,” Gienger said. “They’ve put a lot into this program since I’ve been there. They’ve dedicated (themselves) in the summers so I’m really happy for them. They wanted to experience it, and I think they should get that experience.”

Selembo was a freshman when Gienger took over the girls program, and it’s been a process each season. The last three years have seen the Vikings’ season end at regionals. There was a flood of emotion for the players as they finally made it over the hump.

“I trust her with the play calls, and she has great plays,” Selembo said of Gienger. “It’s just us working hard, wanting to do it, wanting to execute and drive to finish at the end. I’m just really excited.”

Junior guard Raelee Moore, who finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and three steals, said there was a different feel in the locker room before the game.

“That mindset we weren’t going to go out there and be single players,” she said. “We’re going to be team players.”

North lead 13-10 after one period and held a 22-15 edge at halftime. Renton kept itself in the game in the third, despite allowing the Vikings a 28-21 lead midway through. The Indians roared back to get within 32-31 on a corner 3-pointer by Solana Jackson at the buzzer.

But the final period was all North Kitsap.

“I think we kind of realized that eight more minutes and we can make it to Yakima,” Moore said. “We broke a 30-year drought.”

Moore’s layup off a pass from Selembo gave NK a 34-31 lead, and the Vikings scored on two of their next three possessions thanks to buckets by Selembo and Noey Barreith, who had nine points and eight rebounds, for a 38-31 lead. Renton closed to within five, 40-35 on a jumper by Tori Allen, but an 8-4 scoring run started by Moore saw NK’s lead increase to 48-39 with 1:53 left.

Raelee Moore of North Kitsap dribbles down court in a 2A regional girls basketball game Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, at Rogers High.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

A three-pointer by Weins from the right side turned out to be the dagger for the Indians as North led 50-39 and then added another bucket in transition as Moore found a wide-open Pearson under the basket for the final score. Pearson had 13 points for the game.

Gienger said Renton ran a box-and-one on Selembo as well as trying to run a press earlier. That didn’t work out so hot for the Indians as North was able to utilize its quickness against Renton’s size. Allen is listed at 6-foot-11, Mahrysa Thomas is 6-2, Darian Couper 6-0 and Malaya Roberts 5-11.

“I have people that can maneuver and … it opened it up,” Gienger said. “They’re going to have to put one of their big girls on one of my guards. They didn’t match up very well with me in that regard.”

North Kitsap’s Lauren Weins, left and Katie Hughes, right, guard Renton’s Tori Allen in a 52-42 win over the Indians at the 2A regional tournament at Rogers High Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

The Vikings were one of the top two teams in the Olympic League all season, narrowly missing out on repeating as league champions before winning two games at district to qualify for regionals. Injuries, especially for Selembo and fellow senior Lauren Weins, forced them to sit much of the first half of the season. Selembo finished with eight points, four steals, and three assists.

“Not being able to play the first half of the year made me want to come back and make up for lost time, you could say,” Selembo said. “It’s been a tough three years.”

Before the game, Selembo said she gave herself a pep talk.

It went something like this; ‘This is it, this is you. You can do this. This not impossible. Have a heart. Get over how tired you are. Everybody’s tired. You just have to push through to the end,’” she said.

Selembo and the Vikings are grateful the end didn’t come Saturday considering Gienger had booked hotel rooms before the season started.

“That was even more motivation,” Selembo said. “Shoot, if she’s that confident in us it just shows how much hope she has in you.”

Noey Barreith of North Kitsap drives to the basket against Renton’s Daiyona Thompson Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, at Rogers High. The Vikings won 52-42.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)
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