Girls basketball team works on off-the-ball skills, new offense and building the bench

Published on Wed, Dec 4, 2013 by Ian Ferguson

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Most people watching a basketball game keep their eye on the ball. They look at who’s dribbling, who’s passing and who’s shooting at any given moment. In doing so, viewers tend to lose track of what the other nine players on the court are doing. That, Blaine girls basketball head coach Ryan Pike said, is where his team can improve.

“This year we’ll be looking at how we can improve what we’re doing when we don’t have the ball,” Pike said.

The players are already able ball handlers. They’ve been to the state tournament two years in a row, and won 18 of 25 games last year despite having no seniors on the team.

Now, senior Alexis McElwain will be a strong presence to the court. Her powerful drives and tenacious rebounding led the 
team last year. Senior Olivia Olason has great court vision and ball movement. High scoring trio Taylor V’Dovec, Mandy Hayes and Breanna Chau, all juniors, displayed the ball handling and shooting skills of three-year veterans even as sophomores last year. According to Pike, all returning players have only improved since last year.

“A lot of people on this team have put in time over the offseason, and I think that’s going to pay off,” Pike said.

Needless to say, he’s not worried about how his team handles the ball.

“They are all very skilled with the ball. It’s that other 90 percent of time that we’ll be working on the most,” he said. Setting screens, getting open, posting up, boxing out – not to mention the entire defensive skill set – those are areas that will make the difference between a good team and a state level team, Pike said.

Castle Rock knocked the Borderites out in the regional round of the state tournament last year. Chau, Hayes, Olason, V’Dovec and McElwain played all but the final seconds of the game, putting forth a monumental effort but losing 60–55 in overtime. 

Pike said a key to success this season will be giving his starting five some rest by subbing in other skilled players.

“We’re working on building a solid bench. You need that so everyone can play their hardest,” he said.

The team has been practicing since November 18.

“We’re all getting along and practicing hard,” Pike said. “We’ve got a lot of new freshmen, and the upper-class girls are doing a great job of leading the way.”

The Borderites’ defensive look will be similar to last year, but Pike is implementing a few changes on offense. Specifically, the Borderites will be adding a “read and react” component to their offensive set.

The read and react offense allows players to make decisions about how to move on the court based on what the ball and their teammates are doing. To be effective, it relies on each player’s game sense rather than an ingrained set of plays. Pike is confident that his players know the game well enough to use it.

“It will take time to adapt,” Pike said. “It may require some game experience before we get it solid, but the team is picking it up pretty quickly,” Pike said.

Teaching a new style of play is tough in any sport, but it helps to have coachable athletes. Pike said the ability of his players to listen and learn is their best skill.

“They’re all coachable; they all listen and that makes a coach’s job easy and enjoyable,” he said.

The Borderites will face Sedro-Woolley on the road Friday, December 6 at 7 p.m. before traveling to Mount Baker Saturday, December 7 for a game at 4 p.m.