Jaelyn Sackrider, left, defends Molly Johnston’s drive to the hoop during a recent scrimmage.

Jaelyn Sackrider, left, defends Molly Johnston’s drive to the hoop during a recent scrimmage.

Elma girls embrace role as league favorites

After unwillingly understudying their East County rivals for the past four years, Elma’s girls are ready to occupy the spotlight.

Returning tall and talented staples of a regional qualifier last season, the Eagles are favored to succeed graduation-hampered Montesano as the team to beat in the Evergreen 1A Girls Basketball League.

Elma opened its season Nov. 29 at home against Adna. Results were not available when The Vidette went to press.

In some respects, the Eagles (14-10 last season) are in the same position Montesano was in three years ago — a consensus league favorite despite possessing an all-underclass roster. Elma has no seniors and only two juniors on the varsity.

Elma coach Lisa Johnson embraces the front-runner’s role.

“I think these kids have earned it,” Johnson said. “They’ve come a long way. They finished strong last year and made it to the last 16 at state…The energy in the gym is fantastic.”

On size alone, the Eagles figure to give opponents match-up problems. They return four key performers who are at least 5-foot-11.

Six-foot junior Molly Johnston was the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer last season. Brooke Sutherby, another 6-foot junior, and 5-11 sophomore Quin Mikel were both part-time starters in 2016-17.

After spending much of last season on the junior varsity, six-two sophomore Jalyn Sackrider played well in limited varsity appearances in the late season.

“Our height advantage is crazy,” Johnson said. “At a small school, you’re lucky if you have one 6-footer and I’m pushing four.”

Most of the taller performers also possess considerable agility and are well-suited to Elma’s traditional up-tempo style.

Despite the team’s youth, the Eagles boast more varsity experience than many senior-oriented teams. Many of the sophomores logged varsity action last season.

Five-seven sophomore Kali Rambo, 5-8 sophomore Jillian Bieker and 5-4 sophomore Kayli Johnson (the daughter of the coach) will likely join Johnston in the starting lineup. Coach Johnson said the fifth starter will likely come from Mikel, Sutherby and Sackrider.

Sophomores Kaelyn Burgher and Alle Bol round out the varsity.

If there’s a question mark about the Eagles, it might be perimeter shooting — the team’s Achilles heel in recent years. Johnson, however, believes her club has improved in that area.

She sees Hoquiam and possibly Montesano as the other top Evergreen 1A teams.

Bryan Schneider returns as Johnson’s assistant.