Whether she needs a lay-in, a steal or an assist, Lisa Johnson always knows who she can count on.
Maddie Thompson, a senior point guard and a three-year starter, leads Elma High School’s girls basketball team in points, assists and steals. But this isn’t a one-gun team, relying on just one player to carry them to another win.
“The best thing is that we’re really balanced,” said Johnson, who is in her 15th season as Elma’s head girls basketball coach. “We could potentially have a different leading scorer every night. Do we have standouts? Absolutely.”
But the potential for Payton Elliott, a 5-foot-7 junior forward, or Conley Doyle, a 6-foot senior post, or Molly Johnston, a 6-foot freshman center, leading the Eagles in scoring is a real threat – game in and game out. Elliott is averaging about 10 points and Doyle and Johnston are both averaging around eight points.
“It’s perfectly balanced,” Johnson said.
That makes Elma tough to defend. Focus just on stopping Thompson, an all-league guard who is averaging a team-high 11 points, and someone else will step up and score.
“We have a lot of weapons,” Johnson said. “Right now, our biggest asset is our transition game. We have a good inside game, but we also have a lot of speed and a lot of length. When we’re running and pressing, that’s when we’re most successful and put the points on the board.”
Teamwork and a willingness to share the ball is no accident. It comes from familiarity – the four seniors on the team have been teammates since seventh grade. And that teamwork also comes from shared fun time – the Eagles have weekly team dinners, movie nights and game nights. It’s all about bonding, uniting a team. It’s tough to beat teamwork.
“This team chemistry is definitely a team chemistry that I knew from probably the first day we stepped on the floor that they had a special chemistry about them,” Johnson said. “That doesn’t come along all the time.”
Nobody worries who the high scorer is. Instead, teamwork mentality is a winning formula. Elma, with four returning starters in Thompson, Elliott, Doyle and Jordan Hall, is 17-3 overall and 12-2 in the 1A Evergreen League after beating White Salmon 61-43 in the first round of the district playoffs.
“I’ve had great teams that had great athletes, but once everyone started to worry about getting their name listed as the high scorer, it starts to unravel,” Johnson said. “You try to keep it from unraveling, but it pulls the team apart. This team has never, never had that.”
Besides being a scorer, passer and defender, Thompson is also a leader. When the Eagles fall behind by five points, Thompson, as a team captain, is the energizer, determined to keep her teammates going and not give up.
“That’s definitely me,” Thompson said. “I’m always cheering them on, even if we’re losing. There’s situations where they need me and I’ll be there, encouraging them. I have to come focused and always be ready to get that fire under them.”
Thompson always hustles, inspiring her teammates to play hard.
“Maddie is our leader,” Johnson said. “She really pushes in practices and I games. She sets the tone. And this team is definitely a group of hard workers. They’re a great group of hard workers.”
Besides hustling after rebounds and playing tough defense, Doyle is ready to play whatever role that’s needed for her team to win. She’s ready to be that scorer when the team needs it.
“It depends on the game,” Doyle said. “Sometimes our bigs will score the points. And other games we’ll kick to the outside and they’ll do the scoring.”
It just depends on what the defense is doing.
“When we’re playing a game, we just push each other to be the best we can be,” Doyle said
Being teammates for the five seniors on the team for so long, has helped unite this team.
“That just helps build our chemistry,” Doyle said. “We’re friends on the court and friends off the court. When we’re playing we just push each other to be the best we can be. We expect that of each other.”
For Johnson, who played basketball at Elma High School and then starred at Saint Martin’s University, coaching isn’t just about the scoreboard, about just trying to get the win. It’s also about teaching life lessons.
“Basketball to me has meant a lot of things,” Johnson said. “As a kid growing up, it gave me a passion and it definitely gave me the drive to be successful and not want to lose at anything. We are definitely teaching life lessons.”
And it’s not only how to push yourself in tough times, developing a good work ethic.
“One of our big mottos here is to be a great teammate,” Johnson said. “Work hard and be a great teammate.”
Teamwork has been a key to this team’s success.
“We’ve had the best chemistry,” Johnson said. “I’ve coached a lot of teams and our team chemistry is true and genuine.”
They get along – and they win. It’s been a win, win season.