ILWACO — The Lady Fishermen have lost only one league game in their five years in the Pacific League, winning the title four times and sharing it with Raymond in 2016-17. This year they’re in the running for their sixth straight league title.
Last year, they lost the league’s top three players to graduation, but sophomore guard Erika Glenn emerged as the league MVP and a First-Team All-State player. They won the league title by three games over Ocosta, though it took Ebby McMullen’s beyond-half-court buzzer-beater against the Wildcats to keep the race from being much closer. Ilwaco reached district finals and lost in the first round at state.
McMullen, last year’s point guard, graduates from the starting back-court along with Arianna Bell. Tiana Ramsey and Kaytlenn Whelden will likely see time at the point, coach Ned Bittner says. Glenn may take on more of a point-guard role this year.
“In the past we had one designated point guard, like Ebby McMullen, but it’s going to be more by committee this season,” Bittner said.
Whelden had a hot streak from long-range coming off the bench last year. Ramsey showed a willingness to attack the basket. Since Whelden has been working her way back from an injury, Ramsey is set to start at least at the beginning of the season, and Bittner envisions big contributions from her.
“I’d like to see her develop into a penetrating player. She may become one of those players whose offense comes from defense, off of steals,” he said.
Glenn is one of the smoothest scorers in small-school Washington basketball, but perhaps the most remarkable thing to watch is her passing vision. Glenn will get assists from tough angles through heavy traffic. Whether she is playing point guard or shooting guard, look for Glenn to create a lot of baskets for teammates.
Estella Sheldon, Sunny Kemmer and Kylie Gray rotated in the front-court last season, but this year all three will start. Sheldon has an inside and outside game and so will likely assume the small forward position. She has experience in big moments. At state two seasons ago, as a sophomore, she had the in-bounds steal that set up Glenn’s overtime-forcing three-pointer in a loss to St. George’s.
“Last year there was kind of an open outlook for what we were going to (accomplish),” she said. Last year’s success gives the team something to build on. “We’re more mentally prepared, we know what we’re doing more.”
Kemmer and Gray both broke out as first-time varsity regulars last season. Kemmer had good touch on her short-range bank shot last year and is showing an array of post moves in preseason practice.
Gray uses her strength to her advantage in the low post and excels as an offensive rebounder. In the nail-biter against Ocosta last year, she wrestled away a tough offensive rebound that helped set the stage for McMullen’s overtime-forcing shot. Gray occasionally struggled with foul trouble last year.
“She’s a physical player… I want her to continue to play physically but just smarter, to not get some of the fouls that she can avoid,” Bittner said. “Last year was her first year in the limelight, and she learned a lot.”
Against tougher defenses as they got deeper into the playoffs last year, Ilwaco’s offense often became heavily reliant on Glenn. With the typical sophomore-to-junior leap, it’s easy to see Gray emerging as a second option. Gray scored 18 points in a playoff win over a strong Willapa Valley team.
“I think she will be that dominant player,” Bittner said.
Bittner also sees Sheldon becoming even more of a creator.
“I think Estella will develop into what she’s been working on (becoming). She’s proven she can hit the open shot. I’d like to see her attack the basket more.”
Olivia McKinstry and Maggie Jacobson provide depth up front.
“We’re a taller, longer team, with hopefully more depth than in past years,” Bittner said.
Dominique Bittner and Jamie Kemmer are three-point shooters off the bench.
Ilwaco starts league play against Chief Leschi on Dec. 4 at 7 p.m.