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Originally published Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 8:02 PM

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Mercer Island's Kris Brackmann up for 3A state challenge

Unranked Islanders face No. 3 Wilson Thursday in the Class 3A state girls quarterfinals.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Kris Brackmann loves a challenge.

Running really isn't enough of one for the Mercer Island senior.

But add mud pits and plenty of obstacles, and Brackmann's in — and she has the messy photo to show for it after surviving the Hell Run last September in Carnation.

"I'm not a huge fan of running, but when you throw in the obstacles and a little challenge, it's very fun," she said.

So, don't expect Brackmann to back down as the unranked Islanders take on No. 3 Wilson of Tacoma on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A state girls basketball tournament at the Tacoma Dome.

"I feel comfortable not going into the state tournament ranked," she said. "We can really shock the world."

Just like Cleveland did in 2010, upsetting Mercer Island in the semifinals — after the Islanders had knocked off defending-champion Kennedy Catholic — and then surprising Holy Names in the title game.

"Exactly!" Brackmann said. "We're not settling for just making it there. We want to make something happen."

The 5-foot-11 Brackmann is a big reason good things are happening this season to the Islanders, who are an improbable 21-7 after finishing 5-15 a year ago — and not just because she averages a team-best 13.2 points.

"She's a leader through and through," coach Kaela Yuen said, noting that Brackmann is involved in various school and community projects and also coaches a youth team. "She's been a motivating force to encourage the girls."

And some extra motivation was warranted after last year's disappointing finish, which came on the heels of three straight appearances in the top 16. It was particularly frustrating for Brackmann, who missed the final 12 games with a broken hand after averaging nearly 15 points.

Still, she called it a good learning experience. And it served as added incentive for this season.

"We definitely had to prove something to ourselves," Brackmann said.

And then, for Brackmann, there's the unfinished business from the volleyball season. The Islanders were unbeaten and ranked No. 1 heading into the state tournament, but lost a five-set heartbreaker to Prairie, which went on to win the championship. Mercer Island came back to sweep its final three matches to finish 24-1, but the seventh-place hardware was disappointing.

Brackmann, an all KingCo 3A/2A first team selection in both sports, said the volleyball season was "unbelievably fun" and something she took pride in. But the disappointment hasn't entirely disappeared.

"It still stings a little bit," she said. "So, during basketball season I wanted to come in and make the most of it and make the best of what I have. And it also still stings from freshman year (2010), when we were so close to playing in the state championship.

"This is really my last year to make something happen, and I really wanted our team to go far and now we're at this point."

Brackmann said she loves volleyball and basketball equally and hopes to ultimately play both at Claremont McKenna College in California, although she will focus on basketball for at least the first season.

Yuen, who was junior-varsity coach last season, said Brackmann has blossomed into a complete player after being more offensive-minded earlier in her career. She now draws most of the toughest defensive assignments. Her efforts against high-scoring Sidney Rielly in the regional round helped MI upset seventh-ranked Everett.

"It was a big challenge, but I was up for it," she said.

And that's classic Kris Brackmann.

Sandy Ringer: 206-718-1512 or sringer@seattletimes.com

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