The Elma High School girls basketball team is heading to the Class 1A state tournament for the first time since 2010.
After winning the 1A Evergreen Conference and the District 4 championships, the No. 5 Eagles will open state against No. 13 Overlake on Wednesday, February 27, at the Yakima SunDome. Tipoff is scheduled for 12:15 p.m.
“It’s always been a goal, but it’s kind of surreal that we are finally here,” said senior guard Kassedy Olson. “I felt last year we could have done it, but we just couldn’t get that push. This year it’s finally all coming together.”
Elma (22-3) saw its five-game winning streak end in the regional round of the state tournament following a 47-34 loss to No. 4 Cashmere (21-2).
However, due to being ranked among the top eight teams in the WIAA’s season-ending RPI ranking, the Eagles had already secured their trip to state, but now face a win-or-go-home scenario.
“I am just really excited to finally get to play in the SunDome with my best friends,” said Molly Johnston, a senior, who joins Olson and junior Kayli Johnson as team captains this season. “This team is primarily juniors and seniors and we’ve all grown up together. I couldn’t image doing this with any other group of people.”
The Eagles are led offensively by a trio of juniors in 6-foot-2 post Jalyn Sackrider (13.6 points per game), 5-6 forward Kali Rambo (11.7 ppg), and 6-0 forward Quin Mikel (11.1 ppg).
“This team is fast. We’re aggressive. We’re always encouraging each other,” Johnston said. “If someone does something good, we get pumped and that just fuels it throughout the game. When we’re playing there’s no stress. We’re just out there to play.”
Elma last won a state playoff game in 2010, defeating Squalicum (65-44) in the opening round. It has been 10 years since the program took home a trophy, finishing fourth at the 2009 tournament.
Despite the loss in the regional round, coach Lisa Johnson-Saila and her team had plenty of positives to point to, namely holding high-scoring junior guard Hannah Van Lith to just 16 points. Van Lith, who is ranked as the No. 3 player nationally in the Class of 2020 and entered the contest averaging 34 points a game, missed 19 of the 23 shots she put up against the Eagles, doing most of her damage from the free throw line.
“They’re the quintessential Elma basketball program that we’ve had here for a long time,” Johnson-Saila said. “They play amazing team defense and they get out and run.”
The 47 points were a season low for the Bulldogs and marked the 23rd time this year the Eagles held an opponent under 50 points.
The Eagles will now face an Overlake team, which finished second in the 1A Emerald City League. The streaking Owls, who knocked off No. 12 Granger (44-30) at regionals, have won 10 out of their last 11 games with their only defeat coming in the district title game against defending 1A state champion Lynden Christian (60-46). Overlake is paced offensively by 5-9 sophomore guard Kaku Cosmos (14.2 ppg) and 6-5 junior post Eliza Friend (13.0 ppg).
In addition to the Cashmere setback, Elma’s only other losses this season came against the defending 2A state champion W.F. West and rival Montesano, which the Eagles bested during the rematch (43-35) in the regular season finale to capture the league crown.
Elma dominated the 1A District 4 tournament, winning all three of its games by double digits. Sackrider earned WIAA Player of the Week honors following her three-game performance. The junior scored 19 points against Castle Rock in the first round, single-handedly outscoring the Rockets in the Eagles’ 63-16 triumph.
Sackrider added a game-high 21 points against Stevenson in a 73-40 semifinal win over Stevenson and 14 points in a 48-37 title victory for the Eagles against King’s Way Christian.
Elma was able to overcome a shaky, injury-plagued start to the season. The team lost senior Brooke Sutherby, who suffered an ankle injury that required surgery during the soccer season for the entire year. Both Johnston and Olson missed early-season games because of ankle issues before returning to the lineup.
“We have three seniors on the team and all had ankle injuries. We knew one wasn’t going to play, then one other one goes down then another one goes down before we even started league,” Johnson-Saila said. “We kind of started out with a lot of adversity, but we were able to work through it. We grew and kept getting better and did all the little things. The last month we’ve really emphasized doing the little things, and challenging each other.”