Eastside Connection

It’s still early in the team’s two-hour practice and Tiffany Darling isn’t 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. “That’s the coach I know. The intensity hasn’t changed. If anything it’s 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, it’s little wonder that the top two players leading the charge to turn around P.C. women’s 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 that’s making Peninsula a viable candidate for postseason play and a bond that’s fostering an atmosphere of winning the right way.

“When you’re looking at two people in our program who epitomize what we’re trying to build this program around, that epitomize our core covenants, it’s Sam and Britney,” Darling says. “We don’t know what we’re going to get out of our team every night, but we know what we’re going to get out of those two every night.”

‘This one’s 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. “He’s just a motivator.”

Back in Wellpinit, the Flett family is big and big on sports. Sam grew up a stone’s 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 didn’t get to watch a lot of my games,” Flett said, recalling her mantra that season: This one’s 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 hasn’t completely dealt with the loss.

“Any other kid they’d 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 wouldn’t 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. “Sam’s 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 didn’t get handed a challenge as a high school freshman: she worked for it.

At 5-foot-5 and a paltry 110 pounds, Yamane wasn’t 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 Warden’s 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 Flett’s, 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 you’re 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.

“She’s playing out of position a little bit (since) she never really played a point guard,” Darling says. “I’m 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 conference’s best scorers each night.

“We’re putting her on the other team’s best player every night so she has to be a defensive stopper, a point guard (and) get us into (an) offense,” Darling says. “That’s a lot of pressure to handle. But she’s a kid that loves a challenge. She’s 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.

“They’re 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.

Here’s a hint coach: look in small towns east of the mountains.

Eastside stars, by the numbers

Sam Flett

Games PPG RPG 3P% FT% Stls Asts

17 12.5* 6.8* .231 .724 36 56*

Britney Yamane

Games PPG RPG 3P% FT% Stls Asts

16 10.0 3.5 .255 .756* 31 49

* — leads team

The Britney Yamane file

Age: 18

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

Age: 18

Career goal/interest: journalism/multimedia production

Favorite basketball player: JJ Redick

Favorite movies: “Hoosiers,” “Boondock Saints”

Favorite meal: Chicken fettuccine alfredo (from mom); French bread (from teammate Krystal Tolliver and Ayla Brown); banana walnut ice cream (from Yamane’s homemade recipe)

Favorite music — Rock (any kind of rock)

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 20
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates