Its still early in the teams two-hour practice and Tiffany Darling isnt happy. Few coaches would be after a 39-point defeat the night before. The players have heard this stuff before, but it still stings. They stand in a circle, heads bowed.
Britney Yamane has heard this speech before. Back home in Warden, where Darling did a two-year stint as head coach in the minute Eastern Washington town population 2,600 Yamane was just a freshman. After similar losses or missing particular goals, Yamane recalls, Darling would make Wildcat players run hills in the snow.
Unlike anyone else, I kind of knew what I was getting myself into when I signed up for this, Yamane says following practice, looking particularly unfazed. Thats the coach I know. The intensity hasnt changed. If anything its gotten even greater.
Perhaps that intensity comes from what one might call small-town syndrome, that one may have to work harder, practice more, put in more time pushing the body and mind, to compete with the big city schools.
If so, its little wonder that the top two players leading the charge to turn around P.C. womens basketball programs are from small, Eastern Washington towns.
A day after their verbal shellacking, the Pirates go out and thump Edmond by 37 points, then turn a 12-point deficit into a nine point win against Shoreline four days after that.
Leading the way were Yamane and Sam Flett, who combined for 65 points, 20 rebounds, 18 assists and 15 steals in those two wins.
But beyond the numbers and the coincidence they lived in rural towns on the other side of the Cascades and the fact their birthdays are 12 days apart the two have a similar work ethic thats making Peninsula a viable candidate for postseason play and a bond thats fostering an atmosphere of winning the right way.
When youre looking at two people in our program who epitomize what were trying to build this program around, that epitomize our core covenants, its Sam and Britney, Darling says. We dont know what were going to get out of our team every night, but we know what were going to get out of those two every night.
This ones for my papa
Everything about Samantha Flett seems to echo her family, and she wears it proudly each time she hits the court. The numbers 24 and 25 have been passed down through the generations, including aunts and uncles, cousins and even her grandfather Bob, her high school coach back in Wellpinit, population 900 people, one grocery store.
My biggest influence was my papa, Flett affectionately dubs him. Hes just a motivator.
Back in Wellpinit, the Flett family is big and big on sports. Sam grew up a stones throw from the community center where family members would open the gym doors and turn on select spotlights. Flett was already a multi-sport star and solid student by the time she was ready to graduate all-league cross country and volleyball in 2007 carrying a 3.50 grade-point average as salutatorian for her senior class all while being the ASB president but she truly made her mark in basketball. A four-year varsity letterman, she was a three-time all-league pick, two-time all-state selection and scored more than 1,500 points in her prep career.
But little of that mattered when her papa got sick.
My senior year I was just kind of laying it on the line for him because he didnt get to watch a lot of my games, Flett said, recalling her mantra that season: This ones for my papa. Which is kind of how I still play today.
When the Pirates preseason came, Flett was often torn between learning her new on-court schemes and off-court heartache, leaving to see her grandfather in the hospital. Not long into the season, he died.
I thought about not playing, Flett says, acknowledging she hasnt completely dealt with the loss.
Any other kid theyd have any other excuse to pack up and go home, Darling says.
Flett says her coaches urged her to use the loss as motivation.
This is where my papa would want me to be, doing what I love to do and doing what he loves to watch me to do, Flett says. I know that my papa wouldnt want me to give up … and neither would my family.
Back on the court and team captain status, Flett promptly got her game adjusted for community college ball and is flourishing. After that slow start, the 5-foot-6 guard leads the team in a rare triple: points, rebounds and assists. She dropped 27 on Whatcom and 20 on Edmonds recently, and her clutch points against Shoreline sealed a critical win.
She can score in a multitude of ways, Darling says. Sams a scorer, a flat-out scorer. Sam can finish with her right or her left hand off the dribble. At only 5-6 she plays about three inches taller than she really is. She creates mismatches because she likes to play on the block with her back to the basket, so we like to post her up against other guards.
Up for a challenge
Britney Yamane didnt get handed a challenge as a high school freshman: she worked for it.
At 5-foot-5 and a paltry 110 pounds, Yamane wasnt exactly the most imposing ninth-grader on the basketball court. But she worked hard, as hard as anyone that Darling, then a second-year coach at Warden High, could see.
We had three guards returning that were first-team all-conference, all-state, Darling recalls. But (Britney) she was too good to sit.
Darling put her at forward.
Also a multi-sport star and top scholar, Yamane ran in the state cross country championships in 2003, 2005 and 2006 while maintaining a 3.50 GPA. But she hit her stride in basketball, helping her team win a league title and Wardens first ever district championship. She once sank 20 free throws in one game to earn a district seed, and capped her prep career with a fine season, averaging 15 points, four rebounds and three assists per game last season as a senior, helping Warden take eighth at state.
Consider her strengths, like Fletts, to comer from good genes and a positive home life that promotes sports. Yamane says her father Kent Yamane, a former state wrestling champ (1978, Warden) simply wanted her to be active.
He just wanted us to be involved with something, no matter what, she recalls. Basketball is what I happened to start with.
And starting out, it was in the Little Dribblers camps, where elementary school-aged sport hopefuls get tips from high school players.
It was kind of neat to go in when youre so little, and you look up to the (high schoolers). That was a huge thing for me, Yamane says. Looking up to these high schoolers like they were gods. I knew that I wanted to be like them someday.
And when Darling recruited her former freshman star, she found Yamane taller and stronger, but just as quick and versatile as in high school.
Shes playing out of position a little bit (since) she never really played a point guard, Darling says. Im asking her to fill that role that for the simple reason that I want that point guard to be an extension of me and I feel that she knows me better than anybody.
Not only does Yamane take on the role of team leader on offense, but also she wrestles with the conferences best scorers each night.
Were putting her on the other teams best player every night so she has to be a defensive stopper, a point guard (and) get us into (an) offense, Darling says. Thats a lot of pressure to handle. But shes a kid that loves a challenge. Shes going to be one of the best players to ever play here, I truly feel that.
And the community at and nearby Peninsula College is getting to know the two hoop stars as well. Yamane is secretary/treasurer of the P.C. Associated Student Council and both students are student ambassadors at the college. Both represent the college in a number of community outreach programs and now are roommates along with two other Pirate teammates.
Theyre just great kids, Darling says. (They are) everything that we look for in representation on the floor in the classroom, out in the community.
And, paying perhaps the biggest compliment to her freshmen phenoms, Darling says she uses them as benchmarks for new recruits.
Heres a hint coach: look in small towns east of the mountains.
Eastside stars, by the numbers
Games PPG RPG 3P% FT% Stls Asts
17 12.5* 6.8* .231 .724 36 56*
Games PPG RPG 3P% FT% Stls Asts
16 10.0 3.5 .255 .756* 31 49
* leads team
The Britney Yamane file
Career goal/interest: psychology
Favorite basketball player: Pete Maravich
Favorite meal: tempura shrimp (from grandma)
Favorite movies: Memoirs of a Geisha, Love and Basketball, The Notebook, Rush Hour trilogy
Favorite music Country, indie rock, Dean Martin-era stuff
The Sam Flett file
Career goal/interest: journalism/multimedia production