Bellevue girls learning on the fly | Prep sports feature

Before Bellevue girls basketball coach Leah Krautter ever gathered her 2012-13 team, she knew it would be a talented group.

Despite key losses from a team that won the conference tournament last year, Krautter had watched a dynamic group of future Wolverines have success on the AAU circuit and during the summer. So when she finally got the entire group together during the fall, her excitement level was already climbing.

"It was really hard to gauge just how good we were going to be," she said. "I was definitely feeling like we would be as good as last year or better. But I didn't foresee us being in this position."

After an 18-1 regular season and win over Liberty put them into the conference title game for a second year in a row, no one is wondering anymore.

Bellevue dropped Liberty 63-38 in the 3A KingCo tournament semi-finals on Tuesday to get back to the title game, where Mercer Island will be waiting at Bellevue College for a 8:15 p.m. Thursday tip time.

Krautter said team chemistry developed quickly for a group that includes four freshmen and only two varsity players from last year's squad. But wins over perennial Wesco contender Glacier Peak and Franklin in the non-league portion of the schedule paved the way for what could be the most successful season in five years.

"We knew if we put all the pieces together, we could have something pretty special," Krautter said. "We are just trying to keep them grounded."

None of the newcomers have impacted the offensive output more than Shelby Cansler, who is averaging better than 16 points per game to go with six rebounds and nearly two assists per contest.

Tatiana Streun and Elisa Park have added contributions in their first prep action as well and Krautter said their poise has never waned, even with the postseason underway and the school's first state playoff berth since 2008 within reach.

"Last year we didn't have a lot of expectations," she said. "It feels like we have a lot of pressure on us, but I don't think the girls feel that."

The stakes will only continue to grow for Krautter and the young Wolverines, beginning on Friday with their championship showdown with the Islanders. Bellevue won decisively in the first game between the two in early January but escaped by only three points when they met two weeks ago.

While Krautter will continue to rely on the freshmen, she can also count on junior Kate Holmes to provide some perspective.

Holmes was one of two players, along with Holly Warendorf, to tear an ACL in her knee near the end of last season. Both have rehabbed and Holmes has been able to get back on the court for Krautter this year. Like her coach, she has no doubt the Wolverines are primed for a special run with their infusion of young talent.

"They have played strong," Holmes said. "They have stepped up and not had any fear about high school."

Regardless of the finish in the championship game, Bellevue will take one of the top two seeds from the conference into the Sea-King District tournament, which begins on Tuesday. A top five finish among that group of 12 will take Krautter and the Wolverines back to state.

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