ILWACO — Ilwaco’s junior-varsity girls basketball team went undefeated this season at 17-0, beating opponents by an average of 28.9 points per game. The only close call was at Willapa Valley, the second-place team in Pacific League JV, where Gabby Bell’s buzzer-beater gave them a 43-41 victory.
Ilwaco had a smaller turnout than in some past years.
“When we started the season, I wasn’t sure where we were gonna stand,” said coach Justin Russell. “We only had 17 or 18 turn out. But in the first weeks, I could see we had talent.”
Then the games started, and the team started beating big, deep schools like Seaside, Astoria and Knappa.
“I didn’t want to talk too much about the undefeated record … But when there got to be just a few games left, it did start to become our goal: ‘Let’s just go ahead and finish this off.’”
Despite the modest turnout, Ilwaco had the right combination of experienced veterans and up-and-coming athletes to give the program the depth it needed this year. At the varsity level, coach Ned Bittner went with a bigger rotation than he has in years and saw his bench prove itself. That included four players who swung between varsity and JV.
Olivia Long, the only freshman who saw varsity time, anchored the JV squad with her work in the post.
“She was by far top scorer,” Russell said. “She’s a strong rebounder, and she battled under the hoop at both ends. She’s going to be a force at the varsity level.”
Faith Richardson joined in mid-season, going six-for-six in her first game. Once she was on board, Russell said, Long expanded her game by moving further out from the basket at times. Maggie Jacobson refined her game on the interior and occasionally saw varsity action.
Point guard Tiana Ramsey brought a slashing, attacking game when she was available, but her swing swayed more in the direction of varsity minutes.
As a result, Russell turned to Bell, a freshman, to run the point. Russell remarked on her ability to quickly learn the plays and her talent for reading the court.
Learning the offense was more than just learning the plays. Russell said he runs just a few plays, many fewer than the team uses at the varsity level, but encourages his players to respond to the situation in front of them.
“We’re trying to learn the game. The set (plays) are a suggestion. The goal is to get the best shot. You need to find an opening, make a cut.”
Russell called sophomore Abby Knopski the hardest worker on the team.
“If I needed a defensive stop, or if I needed the overall morale of a game to change, a lot of times I turned to her,” he said.
Jaymi Kemmer provided shooting, including a game with six 3-pointers. Dominique Bittner, a veteran junior guard, can also spread the floor but had her time limited to leave her available for varsity play. Senior Carolina Mendez provided further veteran leadership, what Russell described as a calming presence.
Freshman Alyssa Marsh came in as an athletic but raw player whose shot needed to be rebuilt. Marsh, a middle school track star, developed her game throughout the year.
The JV defense prepares players for the style the varsity team plays, geared toward creating turnovers at all points on the floor.
“We created transition opportunities. We run a full-court press as long as I think we can, and we extend the defense in the half-court,” Russell said.