MYERSTOWN – As the interviewer posed question after question, the Elco girls’ basketball team’s third-year head coach considered each carefully, pondered them and then responded articulately. But there was one query that didn’t require contemplation, one she needed no time or thought to answer.
‘Would winning more games than you did last year be a reasonable goal?’ “No,” said Ashli Shay, in the blink of an eye and without doing so. “That’s way too low for this team. We know we can be extremely competitive. The possibilities are endless at this point.”
It could be that the Raiders under-achieved last season. Or it could be that they have improved drastically. But either way, Elco’s expectations are higher this season.
Last year, Shay’s second season at the helm, the Raiders made strides in the middle of the year, but didn’t necessarily follow through with those improvements down the stretch. In the final analysis, a 7-15 overall mark didn’t suggest much success.
“My first two years were disappointing,” said Shay. “Any time you’re losing more than you’re winning it’s disappointing. And if you don’t feel that way you shouldn’t be a coach, or a player. But at the same time we didn’t have a lot of varsity experience. Our expectations, were they too high, not high enough? I don’t know.
“Last year, during the middle of the season, we started to improve,” Shay continued. “We started to compete more. And we competed hard at the end.”
Most of the girls from last year are back. Among Elco’s top eight performers, seven are either seniors or juniors. And just about all of those players saw significant playing time in 2011-12.
“For the first time since I’ve been here, there’s carry-over because we return four starters,” said Shay, herself a one-time Raider player. “One of the question I asked the girls was: ‘Are you sick of losing?’ They answered ‘Yes’, and they meant it. We’re certainly using that as motivation and as something we want to change.
“Right now my biggest concern is just being consistent,” Shay added. “We’re a lot more concerned with the offensive consistency because we tend to rush things. We need to realize there’s not a shot clock. But we harp on it every single day.”
The Raiders possess a legitimate scoring threat in junior marks-person Cheyenne Hassler, one of the top talents locally. Hassler will be supported in the scoring department by versatile senior wing player Kady Yoders.
But Elco inside people, senior Celeste Shimp and junior Victoria Sweatlock, are also capable of putting the ball in the hoop. Senior point guard Hailie Parker must provide a steadying influence for the Raiders to reach their goals.
“We’ve got a lot of kids we know we can run in and out,” said Shay. “There’s not going to be a lot of drop-off when we go to the bench. We’re going to have a lot of depth.
“What I see is a lot of speed,” Shay continued. “And we have great size. We have good size in the post and good size at the guards. Our guards can really run.”
What junior guard/forward Sydnie Parker, junior guard/forward Kathleen Gilbertson and sophomore guard Andria Harpold will provide for Elco is a breather, as well as insurance against injury and illness.
“Everybody knows Cheyenne Hassler can shoot,” said Shay, “and we’ve been working on her putting the ball on the floor. And Kady Yoders has really been taking the ball to the hole hard. At this point, I’m not overly concerned with where the points are going to come. On any given night, anyone can step up. That said, we’re also looking to get points from our defense.
“Our post players are very capable of scoring,” added Shay. “They just need to be consistent. There’s not many players in the league bigger than them.”
When asked, Shay shied away from applying numbers as measuring sticks of success, or titles and playoffs, for that matter.
“The way we’ve done it is to set three measurable goals for each game,” said Shay. “We believe if we achieve those goals, we have a reasonable chance to win games. Those other goals will take care of themselves. But Section Three (of the Lancaster-Lebanon League) will be a tight race this year, from top to bottom.”
Following three weeks of practice and two scrimmages, the Raiders will kick off their campaign on Saturday, December 8 by hosting Conestoga Valley.
“I am ready,” said Shay. “And trust me, they (her troops) have to be. I think they’re ready to kill somebody. It’s been a long preseason, and you hit the wall. I’m really excited about how things are going to go on Saturday. Obviously there’s going to be the nerves associated with a season-opener, but we’ll see how we respond.”
Despite the disappointment of the last two seasons, Shay is generally pleased with the overall health of the program. It may be that basketball is now second only to girls’ soccer in the order of importance at Elco.
“I do think it’s going in the right direction,” said Shay. “We’ve come a long way. We’ve made some good positive changes. Our youth program is coming along. We’re seeing more collaboration with the coaches on the lower levels. We’re making strides overall. The junior high program has been very positive. The coaches have been sending us girls who are hard workers and skilled. It’s on the right track.”