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BY JEFF FALK

A motivated Raider is a focused Raider. And a focused Raider is a dangerous Raider.

The Elco girls’ basketball team is poised for a big year this season, for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most important one is that the Raiders will be competing with a chip on their collective shoulder, with something to prove.

Elco is projecting that it’s better than its 2019-20 record indicated. Not only are the Raiders another year smarter and another year wiser, they’ve had nine months to think about it.

“I think the previous year always matters,” said Elco head coach Ashli Shay. “There are situations you want to learn from, and things you want to get better at. It felt like there was a sour taste in all of our mouths from last year. It’s something that matters to these kids. They realize they can learn from last year. Hopefully, we got through those growing pains. They kind of had to become their own team.

“Last year, we had some really awesome wins over some great programs,” added Shay. “Then we also had some tough losses. The hardest part was finding a little consistency. Some nights, we looked like a million bucks. We just couldn’t put it together every night. We had some kids coming into their own. We had some growing pains. The talent and the ability was clearly there.”

But before Elco can get to its business it must first navigate the lingering effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

The Raiders’ first official day of practice was Friday, November 20, but after two sessions the Raiders were shut down for two weeks for contact tracing. Then after resuming, Elco’s practices were again paused on December 10th.

To this point, Elco has conducted seven official practices. The Raiders need to get in eight more before they can open their season.

“We know we aren’t the only team in this boat,” said Shay, who’s in her 11th season as Elco’s head coach. “There might be teams who lost more than others. It’s frustrating, because we had to stop, we started again and then we had to stop. There’s a lack of consistency. It’s tough to go two weeks doing nothing organized. You’re relying on people to do things on their own. The seniors were starting to become leaders and we started getting into the flow. But we didn’t feel like we were behind.

“After Thursday’s practice (December 10th),” we sat the girls down and told them there are things we can control and this is something we can’t,” Shay added. “We stressed to them that they had to do everything they possibly could to stay in shape physically. The teams that come out of this in the best shape physically, they’re going to be the teams that really hit this thing head-on we we start back up. It was putting the responsibility on them.”

The Raiders’ up-and-down season last year concluded with an overall record of 11-11. Elco missed out on the District Three postseason by one spot.

“We love pretty much everything about this group,” said Shay. “They’re just a really good group of players. They’re fun to watch. They’re fun to coach. It’s neat to see the evolution of the seniors. It’s neat to see who they’ve mixed together and how each player has taken ownership of the team. We can ask a lot of these kids to do multiple things, and they can do those things.

“I told the girls that there are two areas that, if we don’t control, we’re not going to reach our potential,” Shay continued. “One is rebounding. It is absolutely imperative that we out rebound the other team. Defense and rebounding will help create offense. The other thing is leadership. It is so important, on so many levels, especially this year. Right now, I’m relying on the seniors to support the underclassmen. I told them to use their voices when necessary.”

The top five of Elco’s personnel rotation is balanced and talented. Senior guards Katelyn Rueppel, Amanda Smith and Cassie Johnson will get after opponents on both ends of the floor, while forwards Ashley Yoh, a senior, and Kailey Eckhart, a junior, can play with their backs to the basket or facing it.

“I think those goals are 100 percent realistic for this group,” said Shay of a Section Four championship and playoff appearances in the Lancaster-Lebanon League, District Three and the state. “But you never know what’s going to happen. There are so many scenarios. We don’t want goals on a piece of paper. We want to be competitive.

“We have three different goals for each game – turnovers, defense and rebounding – and if we take care of them, we’ll come out on top,” continued Shay. “If we can hit those goals, we’re going to give ourselves a chance. Everybody wants to win. But for us, we want to take care of the process. We think the little things are big things.”

The Raiders are deep as well. Elco’s solid bench will provide support for its starters, and consists of junior Emma Fox, junior Abigail Sargent, senior Allie Nolt, senior Claudia Huey, senior Cate Liskey and sophomore Sam Nelson.

“If we can restart on time January 4th, have six practices that week, then two more the next week, we could start the season on that Wednesday (Jan. 13),” said Shay, of a schedule already includes four postponements. “We had 22 games on our schedule. But at this point, we’re just hoping to play as many games as possible. Kids are resilient, but there does come a point where it affects them mentally and emotionally.”

To purchase images in this article email jkfalk2005@yahoo.com.

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