Entering the basketball season, there was a general unknown about the Elkton girls’ basketball team.
After being one round away from the quarterfinals – and a coveted trip to Baker City – a season ago, the Elks graduated their two senior guards and suddenly had holes in their roster. This is the very nature of high school athletics. With just two senior starters, no juniors and a group of untested sophomores on this year’s team, there was anything but a guarantee that this team would be able to win right away.
“I don’t know, I don’t know what to think of what’s going to happen this year at all,” said senior Allison Swearingen on November 15, two weeks before the season 2017-18 tipoff.
“It’s honestly, it’s 100 percent a surprise,” added senior Hannah Maxwell.
But that was then, before the season began. Before the Elks, as of this writing, have gone 17-3 (losing to the number three team in 2A and two top seven 1A teams) including a rare victory against rival North Douglas. Before the sophomores of Elkton became the key ingredient to the team’s success on the season.
“Must be something in the water. I don’t know, it just works so well this year,” said sophomore starter Kieryn Carnes.
Everything the Elks do first begins with Maxwell. She leads the team in points and rebounds this season and is the engine that makes the team go. On any given night, she can go for 20 points and 20 rebounds with ease. The leader of the team, she instructs teammates on the court and – if she happens to come out of the game – from the bench.
When sophomore Alexis Halstead was trying to describe what Maxwell brings to the team words failed her as she settled on encompassing the entirety of the senior’s importance and value into all that she does by saying “she’s Hannah Maxwell.”
She’s Hannah Maxwell.
After Maxwell, there is fellow senior Swearengin. Swearingen, a starter that hits threes and plays through the pain of her strained ACL, is the only other senior that gets regular minutes. Maise Cox is the third and final senior on the roster. Cox also plays JV and generally gets into varsity games when the Elks are blowing teams out which this season has happened more often than not.
That’s it for the Elkton upperclassmen. The rest of the team is carried by a wave of sophomores.
“The first day of practice [head coach Rob] Parker told them that you’re sophomores but you’re going to have to start playing like you’re a senior because that’s what we need from them,” said Maxwell.
This group that surrounds Maxwell has risen to the occasion, positioned the Elks at the top of the league and are prepared to make a postseason run.
“They’ve completely exceeded my expectations. Because I’ve been a sophomore, I’ve been there. I started on varsity my sophomore year, too, and it was hectic. I was nervous all the time and stuff and it honestly probably showed in my play,” said Maxwell.
“Watching them play they don’t ever seem nervous. It doesn’t ever get to them. I don’t think they ever think ‘Wow, I’m a sophomore playing for varsity this is crazy.’”
The six sophomores – Carnes, Samantha McCall, Alexis Halstead, Aspyn Luzier, Sadie Olson and Holly Garza – have varying roles on the team.
“Alexis is a fantastic rebounder and Aspyn can obviously shoot threes amazingly and Kieryn is really good all-around and Samantha has these moments where she just kind of does a bunch of really cool stuff and I think we’re all getting better at really fast pace,” said Olson.
For Carnes, this is her second year starting on varsity. Midway through last season after a teammate got sick, Carnes filled in and has been starting ever since. She has gone from being “the freshman in the mix of all the older kids” to becoming an oxymoron as she takes the role of a veteran sophomore.
“It’s really cool to see everyone like step up, like fill their roles, and definitely like getting their own characteristic out on the court. It’s fun to see everyone adapt and find their role, their specific doing on the court. It’s really cool,” she said.
This season, McCall, Halstead and Luzier – until she fractured a growth plate in her leg – have all rotated through the starting lineup. Joining them in the lineup is then Olson who is first off the bench for the Elks.
While Carnes has consistent experience at the varsity level, this next tier of players have been adapting to playing meaningful minutes in a varsity game compared to playing JV last season.
“JV you’re in there, you’re going through it step-by-step slowly, it seems like, but when you get on varsity it steps up a whole new level,” said Halstead.
The next level also includes a more physical game.
“It’s a lot more aggressive. A lot more people can like push you around so I have to be more aggressive around people which I’ve always struggled with. So I’ve been working on it really hard,” said McCall.
The final sophomore is Olson who is in just her second year of playing basketball. After moving to the area and seeing her friends play, she was compelled to join. Primarily playing when the game is out of reach, she is continuing to learn the game and is dependent on her teammates to get there.
“It’s not really one person who’s good at everything, it’s more like she’s good at this, she inspires me for this way, she’s good at this, she inspires me for this way. They all help me be kind of the newer one to accommodate all their different skills,” said Olson.
This mindset of everyone having their own role has the sophomores thinking, talking and planning about a common topic of conversation between the six of them: the future.
“We think we’re going to be pretty good. Better than we are now. It is, I’m kind of looking forward to my senior year even though I’m only a sophomore,” said Halstead.
While continuity and high school sports don’t often mix, this group is looking to capitalize on two more seasons of playing together and getting better.
“Next year it’s going to be all of us. We’re not going to have any upper classmen, we’re going to be the upper classmen,” said Carnes. “And like, taking charge and playing for us and like working together as a family. It’s very exciting. I’m so excited.”