BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – Rebounding, defense and turnovers are little things. Wins, championships and playoffs are big things.
While the Elco girls have just about the same goals as every other basketball team, their approach for reaching them might be a bit unique. The way the Raiders have it figured, if they take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.
Elco’s attention to detail may very well hold the key to its success this season. The Raiders want to focus on the things they do well, and minimize the effects of the things which they aren’t all that good at.
“What we do is set game goals,” said Ashli Shay, the Raiders’ fourth-year head coach. “Defensive goals, rebounding goals and turnover goals. If we reach those goals, we think we can win. We think if we can reach those goals enough times the other things will take care of themselves. We take it one game at a time, and use those team goals each game.
“We have girls who have experienced the league playoffs and district playoffs,” Shay added. “And they want to go back. And I know the coaching staff wants to get there.”
Of course reaching those small goals game in and game out will depend upon the quality of the opponent and the execution of the Raiders’ personnel. But it appears that Elco has the pieces to make it fit.
The Raiders return three players with extensive varsity experience. Deadly three-point shooter Cheyenne Hassler is a three-year starter, 6-0 senior Victoria Sweatlock can impact a game with her inside scoring and rebounding and 5-8 senior guard Sydnie Parker is an athletic slasher and defender.
“Our team speed and athleticism is very good, and it will allow us to play defense,” said Shay. “We like the way Cheyenne shoots the ball. We like Vic inside. And I like my point guard (5-3 junior Andrea Harpold). I like where we’re at at this point of the season. We’re on track for where we want to go.
“We really like this group,” Shay added. “We’re really excited. They’ve (her players) been working hard and getting better. I think our upperclassmen have been great role models for our underclassmen.”
Joining Harpold in the Raiders’ ‘Fine Nine’ will be 5-8 sophomore guard/forward Chandelle Keller, 5-7 senior forward Kathleen Gilbertson and 5-8 senior forward Brittany Hartman. Elco could also receive significant contributions from freshmen Alexis Thomas, a 5-8 guard/forward and Adrianna Sonnen, a 5-3 guard.
“We have seven kids returning and that’s a pretty good number, especially when two of them are your top scorers,” said Shay. “We referenced last year. We focused on the positives. But we don’t emphasize last year. We want them to form their own identity.
“You always want to get better, but our biggest emphasis is on defense and rebounding,” Shay continued. “That’s going to keep you close and give you a shot to win at the end. Those are the things we want to build our program on.”
Elco is coming off a splendid 2013-14 campaign. The Raiders compiled a 15-10 overall mark, advanced to the semifinals of the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs and qualified for the District Three Class AAA postseason.
“Oh, for sure,” said Shay to the notion that last season was a success. “We more than doubled our win total. We were picked to finish second to last in the section (Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League) and we finished second. We definitely turned some heads.
“I think the biggest thing last year was seeing how far the girls came,” continued Shay. “Last year’s seniors were our first group of seniors. It was an awesome thing to see how far the girls came. Everybody as a whole improved. And just seeing them achieve what we knew was their potential.”
Graduated seniors Halie Parker, Celeste Shimp and Kady Yoders are gone, but not forgotten. The current band of Raiders appears poised to grow into their new roles.
“We’ve been able to put a lot more in than I thought we would have,” said Shay. “We have multiple defenses in, but you don’t know until you play. Preparation is so important, but you always want to play.
“One of the areas of concern when you graduate three starters, there’s some inexperience,” said Shay. “You don’t know how it’s going to pan out. You hope to be deep and that you’re able bring kids off the bench. We’re never going to be 100 percent perfect with everything. But we’re really pleased with the kids’ effort.”
The Raiders will see their first action in the new season on Saturday, December 7, at Conestoga Valley.
“We’ve got a lot of youth,” said Shay. “We have more freshmen than upperclassmen – nine up (on the varsity and JV) and four on the freshmen team. That’s something to be excited about. That’s great.
“Working through the youth is a focal point,” Shay continued. “We give them so much we wonder if their heads are going to spin and fall off. We’re nurturing the maturity process in just a week and a half.”