YAKIMA, Wash. — The CWAC’s best teams should be loaded with proven talent ready to compete with just about anyone in Class 2A, if Saturday’s fourth-place game at the SunDome was any indication.
Ellensburg didn’t play any seniors as point guard Brinley Hagemeier could only watch from the bench with a foot injury, allowing freshman Rylee Leishman to capably lead a balanced offense.
Meanwhile, East Valley’s senior-less roster got contributions from all positions and showed once again it can lean on junior Ashlyn Sylve, who sank a free throw with less than a second remaining the Red Devils to a 55-54 win.
“We improved so much during the season it was crazy,” Sylve said. “We’re going to get better and we’re going to have the same family as we did this year, but improved.”
She’s fully adjusted after returning from an ACL injury that kept her from playing as a sophomore and scored 23 points as an encore to Friday’s 24-point, 10-rebound performance in a 52-41 win over W.F. West, the team that beat full-strength Ellensburg in last week’s regionals. Whitney said it’s clear East Valley “upped their game” over the course of a season that included three losses to the Bulldogs, most recently a 66-44 defeat in the CWAC district championship.
Red Devils coach Robi Raab said he told junior Haiden Harrington she would be open since she hasn’t hit many perimeter shots this season, and she capitalized by knocking down three of four for nine points. Fellow junior Karina Hibbitt added 10 points and five rebounds to go with two steals, demonstrating why she’ll be a major part of the lineup going forward alongside sophomore Bryana Barry and Jaelynn Livingston.
“She looks to score,” Raab said. “One of the things she’s going to probably work on in the offseason is look to distribute more and look to get a little bit better there.”
East Valley needed all of those contributions to keep up with Ellensburg’s freshman and sophomores, who scored all but two of their team’s points. Sophomore Kaelynn Smith scored 13 points and Dylan Philip added 11, including three clutch free throws to tie the game with nine seconds left.
She’s established herself as one of the league’s best guards over two impressive seasons and Leishman will join her in the backcourt next season after a year of playing behind Hagemeier, a two-time first team All-CWAC selection. Whitney said Leishman’s already showing impressive mental toughness under pressure against top competition after she scored seven points to go along with five rebounds on Saturday.
But no freshman has more potential than Olivia Anderson, the 6-foot-4 forward who matched Smith’s 13 points for a team high while grabbing 13 rebounds. She ran the floor well for a layup in transition, hit three of four free throws with a shot that can extend all the way out to 3-point range, and posed a significant threat in the paint on both sides of the floor.
“She’s gonna be (one of the best players in the state) by the time she is a junior,” Whitney said. “She’s just got to get stronger. That’s all.”
Just in case all those weapons aren’t enough, Whitney said he’s also expecting 6-foot freshman guard Quinn Rogel to improve and become an integral part of the offense. She started on junior varsity this season and should join Ellensburg’s top team this summer when it faces a challenging schedule that includes both 1A finalist Lynden Christian and 2A finalist Lynden.
The Red Devils could also make a couple key additions with Ashlynn’s little sister, Brooklynn Sylve, and fellow incoming freshmen Mya Alvarado. Raab sees a bright future ahead for a team that fought through injuries and playing every game on the road as its gym was under construction this season.
Both coaches encouraged their communities to come out and appreciate the hard work that led to significant success for both teams this season. Fortunately for fans who haven’t seen East Valley or Ellensburg yet, more opportunities appear to be on the horizon.
“East Valley’s going to be really good again next year,” Whitney said. “So it looks like we have a good rivalry that’s going to start going.”
ELLENSBURG — Dylan Philip 11, Leishman 7, Kaelynn Smith 13, Blume 4, Hartrick 0, Ness 0, Olivia Anderson 13, Kennedy-Colson 4, Whitney 2. Totals 19-49 13-17 54.
EAST VALLEY — Harrington 9, Livingston 5, Karina Hibbitt 10, Barry 5, Ashlynn Sylve 23, Prince 0, Wright 3, Arenas 0, Gordon 0. Totals 17-43 13-19 55.
Ellensburg 17 6 20 11 — 54
East Valley 5 18 14 18 — 55
Highlights: Philip (E) 3 stls; Rylee Leishman (E) 5 rebs, 2 stls; Smith (E) 6 rebs, 2 asts, 2 stls; Anderson (E) 6 rebs; Haiden Harrington (EVY) 5 rebs; Hibbitt (EVY) 5 rebs, 2 asts, 2 stls; Bryana Barry (EVY) 3 asts.