(Brendan Carl | Grays Harbor Newspaper Group) From left, Elma’s Tawni Heller, Peyton Elliott and McKenzie Neary are the three seniors tasked to lead a young roster this season.

Young, athletic roster will fire up Elma

With a group of talented freshmen and sophomores, Elma could well be the team to beat in the 2018 or 2019 Evergreen 1A Girls Basketball League.

Rapid development, however, also could enable the Eagles to arrive as a league contender a year ahead of schedule.

Elma graduated five seniors, including three starters, from a club that went 18-5 and fell one win shy of a regional berth last season. Its varsity roster, at present, includes only three seniors and nary a junior.

But while acknowledging that three-time league defending champion Montesano, with its senior-laden roster, is “a powerhouse,” Eagle coach Lisa Johnson isn’t ruling her club out of the Evergreen title picture.

“I think we have a pretty good shot at anything,” Johnson said. “With the talented group we have, once we get it all together, we’re going to be tough.”

After participating in a jamboree at Napavine today, the Eagles will officially open their season at home against Toledo on Wednesday, Nov. 30. The Vidette had gone to press before results were available.

Elma’s two returning starters figure to play critical roles in this season’s success.

Versatile senior Peyton Elliott will do a little bit of everything, from ball-handling to rebounding. Although only 5-foot-5, Elliott will see some action at forward as well as guard.

Six-foot sophomore Molly Johnston will be a fixture in the post and provide much of her team’s rebounding muscle.

Johnson is reluctant to project other starters, although she admitted to leaning toward upperclassmen in early season contests.

That would give plenty of playing time to 5-4 senior McKenzie Neary, a good perimeter shooter, and hustling senior guard Tawni Heller.

Five-ten sophomore Brooke Sutherby will help out inside. Kassedy Olson, a 5-2 sophomore, and freshmen Quin Mikel and Kayli Johnson (the daughter of the coach) will round out the varsity, with others swinging between the varsity and JV teams.

Coach Johnson believes her club’s shooting should improve from last season, when the Eagles were erratic in that area of the game. Elma shot only 16 percent from the field in a season-ending district loss to Montesano.

The Eagles also possess plenty of speed, a good fit for their traditional running, pressing style. Johnson rates speed and athleticism as her team’s chief assets.

Her greatest concern is the lack of varsity experience. With league play not beginning until January, the Eagles will have a month to work through the growing pains.

“Our biggest challenge is building a team chemistry and putting a whole new team together,” Johnson observed. “If my young kids can make the transition to the speed of the varsity game, we’ll be strong…All the pieces are there. It’s a matter of putting them together.”

Bryan Schneider returns as Johnson’s assistant coach.