It was scheduled as a Northwest Athletic Conference (NWAC) matchup between the men’s basketball teams of Edmonds and Shoreline Community Colleges, but for some it was a Mountlake Terrace High School class reunion.
The rivalry clash between the Edmonds CC Tritons and the Shoreline CC Dolphins on Saturday featured the first head-to-head meeting on the basketball court of Mountlake Terrace graduates Blake Fernandez and Marquis Armstead since the two led the MTHS Hawks to a fourth-place finish at the 2013 3A State Boys Basketball tournament.
Both Fernandez and Armstead are in their first year playing basketball at the community college level — Fernandez for Edmonds and Armstead for Shoreline — and Saturday’s game, the first of two between the schools during this season, ending up getting some special hype.
“Everyone was saying it’s the Blake-and-Marquis matchup,” Fernandez said. The 6-foot-1 Edmonds CC point guard even contacted an old mentor about the occasion. “I texted (MTHS) Coach (Nalin) Sood before the game saying me and Marquis were playing against each other tonight.”
Sood and an entourage of MTHS coaches and supporters attended the game played at Shoreline Community College and saw the host Dolphins fall to Edmonds 83-76.
Both Fernandez and Armstead were in the starting lineups for their respective teams and made significant contributions in the game. Fernandez scored 15 points — well above his season average of 9.89 points per game — had six rebounds and led the Tritons to the victory. Armstead, who had been averaging 15.06 points per game for the Dolphins, scored 17 points and had four assists on Saturday.
Coach Sood beamed with pride for his two former players following the matchup. “The best players on the court tonight were from Mountlake Terrace,” he boasted.
Fernandez and Armstead shared a joyful moment with their former coach following the matchup, smiling and posing for photos. But it wasn’t just Saturday’s game that has brought bliss to the two Hawk alums; both expressed how returning to the basketball court following a year away from action has been a blessing.
After high school graduation in June of 2013, Fernandez walked away from competitive basketball to enroll into the University of Washington and begin his studies toward a biology degree. But the desire to play ball never left.
“I went to UW last year just for school, but I decided I wanted to play basketball; I missed it a lot,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez completed the 2013-14 school year in Seattle, then enrolled into Edmonds CC in the fall to continue his studies and play basketball for the Tritons. As a red-shirt freshman, Fernandez is eligible to play this year for Edmonds and return next year as a sophomore if he chooses.
In addition to basketball, Fernandez is continuing his biology classes and hopes to enroll in medical school once his undergrad studies are completed.
The Tritons are enjoying a remarkable season with Fernandez running the offense this year. Edmonds is 4-1 in league play, 16-4 overall, and sits in second place in the NWAC North Division behind the 18-2 Bellevue College Bulldogs.
Shoreline’s record of 2-3 in league play, 7-11 overall, doesn’t shine as bright as the Tritons, but for Armstead the season is still a success. After a year away from school and working full-time instead, the 6-2 guard is grateful for the opportunity to get back to class and playing basketball.
“I had been wanting to do this last year,” Armstead said. “I didn’t want to work 40-hour weeks anymore. I’m really enjoying (basketball); I’m enjoying it a lot.”
The freshman has been playing a lot too. Armstead has suited up in all 18 Shoreline tilts, averaging almost 33 minutes-a-game. But as much as putting on the Dolphin uniform has meant for Armstead, he is still keeping it all in perspective.
“I just want to keep my GPA up so that I have some options when I get done here,” Armstead said, adding, “I want to do audio engineering and production, but right now it’s just working on getting my AA (Associate of Arts degree).
Both Fernandez and Armstead noted how different playing basketball at the college level is compared to what they remember from their high school experience.
“It’s a lot faster,” Armstead said, “(but) I like the experience I’ve gained from it.”
Armstead has also been impressed with the talent level he has competed against while playing for Edmonds CC. “Anyone in college can shoot the three and make it. It’s not like high school where you can say ‘so-and-so doesn’t shoot.’ It’s a lot more competitive,” he said.
Fernandez agreed that the speed of the college game is much quicker that in high school, but added that college ball is also rougher. “You have to be a lot more physical here,” he said. “I realized the fouls that get called in high school games and the fouls that get called here are a lot different.”
Fernandez explained that he is still trying to adjust to the more physical play that comes with college basketball. “I’m trying to play more physical than I did in high school, and I’m playing over-physical,” he said. “So I have to find the balance between the two.”
Both Armstead and Fernandez still have plenty of chances to improve their play this year as Shoreline and Edmonds each have nine games remaining in their regular season schedules, including a Feb. 21 rematch to be played at Edmonds CC.
The NWAC men’s basketball season concludes with a four-day championship tournament set for March 7-10 at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.
– By Doug Petrowski