MORTON — Wind paints rain on the outer edges of the Morton Elementary play shed floor Wednesday night as the Morton-White Pass girls basketball team gets some nighttime reps in. Coach Curt Atkinson and his team are out here savoring every last minute of practice, even if it means playing with sweatshirts and masks in 42-degree temperatures.
“At least we get to practice,” Atkinson said. “I’m just happy for that. Getting to spend time with the girls, that’s the most important part. They’re working hard. It is a little slick when you get out into the rain, but I don’t think anyone really minds it.”
The Timberwolves are in the same position as every other high school basketball team in the state right now, wondering if the twice-delayed season that’s tentatively scheduled to begin Feb. 1 will ever take place.
Luckily, Morton Elementary has a large enough play shed with enough rims and backboards to spread everyone out, even if some of the hoops are less than the regulation 10 feet. It’s allowed the team to host eight team practices this fall, starting the week after Thanksgiving. Morton was one of the last high schools in the county to allow team practices after the WIAA opened up outdoor practices Sept. 28.
“We’re like two months behind and we’re trying to catch up,” Atkinson said.
In more ways than one. The Timberwolves are coming off a 2-18 overall season where they went 1-9 in the 2B Central League, tied for last, which included a 10-game losing streak during one stretch. But prospects are looking brighter for the T-Wolves as they lose zero seniors and return every player from last season’s team, including leading scorer and rebounder Shaylee Peters.
“It’s really cold and we try to stay positive,” Peters said. “We didn’t get to practice for two months like everyone else did. We’re just trying to make ourselves better for the season we hopefully get to have.”
Peters, a 6-foot senior post, was an all-league, honorable-mention selection last season after fighting through double teams most of the year as teams knew she was the T-Wolves’ undisputed No. 1 option. Atkinson hopes to unlock more of her talent by implementing new offensive schemes to try and find her open looks around the rim.
“We hope it works. We didn’t get to try it this summer,” Atkinson said. “We’ll see when the season starts if that relieves some pressure off of her and gives her some easier opportunities to score. The nice thing with having her is a lot of the defense will key on her, so it leaves our guards to shoot outside.”
Another key returning starter is 5-foot-8 guard Chloe Short, the team’s only senior other than Peters, who led the team in steals last year. Also returning are three freshmen who started last year as eighth graders: Natalia Armstrong, Mackenzie Lindh and Alissa O’Rourke.
With everyone back from last year, Atkinson is hoping the teamwork and friendship that’s been built up will pay off during crunch time this season, even with crucial summertime tournaments being canceled.
“I think we have a good camaraderie amongst the girls,” Atkinson said. “There’s not a lot of feuding. Not one girl, after any of our 20 games, asked me how many points they scored. I look at stuff like that.”
The T-Wolves’ Achilles heel last season was scoring points, averaging the third-lowest points per game (29.7) in the 11-team 2BCL. Atkinson said the freshmen and incoming eighth graders spent the summer honing their marksmanship skills, and said the big question mark this season is if the team can handle the pressure of big games.
“We have to believe in ourselves,” Atkinson said. “If we go in thinking we’re going to lose, we’re going to lose. We’ll try to remain positive, focusing on the good and just do our best.”
The team set a two-year goal last year, starting with making the district tournament in 2019-20, which they did not achieve, and advancing to the state regional round in 2020-21.
“So we have a lot of work to do,” Atkinson said. “You have to lose to learn how to win.”
Atkinson and the T-Wolves also hope to shore up a defense that allowed a league second-worst 55.8 points per game last season, allowing them to get outscored by an average of 26 points per game. That’s why the team is here in the frigid December cold on a weekday night.
And it’s that type of dedication Atkinson sees from his players that keeps him positive that if the Timberwolves get a chance to play, it could be a turnaround season for a program looking to rebound in the right direction.
“If you offered me a team that could win a state title, and I had to give these guys up to do it, I wouldn’t take it,” Atkinson said.