ILWACO — Ilwaco has been built around its inside game the last several years. This year’s Fishermen are rebuilding in the post but return one of the Pacific League’s best guard duos, Erika Glenn and Ebby McMullen.
Playing last year with senior stars Eliza Bannister, Makenzie Kaech and Madeline Jacobson, Glenn played a supporting role, but her talent still stood out. She will be one of the most exciting players in the league the next three years, along with fellow sophomores Kirsten Hopfer of Ocosta and Jaelyn Turner of Life Christian. Glenn spent last season as a shooting threat who punished teams that packed the paint, but was more than that, creating opportunities of her own with offensive rebounds and steals. She excelled as a passer, slasher and playmaker, which bodes well for a larger role.
McMullen would probably be considered one of the league’s top returning players if she had been healthier the last two years. In her big sophomore season of 2016-17, she was somewhat similar to ’17-18 Glenn: an overqualified fourth option who could break down the defense and create on her own when needed. As the team’s point guard, she proved to be a strong contributor. McMullen had several 20-point games as a sophomore, took over a District game against Raymond, and looked like one of the league’s rising stars, despite her knee wearing down by the end of the season.
More ailments, including a concussion that cost her several weeks, limited her in the regular season last year. But when she was on the court, she played a key role. She delivered the in-bounds pass that set up the game-winning Makenzie Kaech basket in District semifinals, and her strong play helped keep Ilwaco in the District final against powerhouse Napavine, which the Fishermen came back to win. Coach Ned Bittner said he plans to manage her playing time this year.
“She’s doing great right now, but we have to keep her healthy and not wear her out,” he said.
McMullen will start in the back court, possibly at point guard. But Bittner says Arianna Bell is another possibility at the point. Bell comes off her first year of high school basketball as a junior last season. She played junior varsity ball last season and progressed quickly, becoming a swing player and playing some minutes at State.
“I got better at seeing the court, and seeing when players are open,” she said. At point guard, “I like to get us up the court quickly, and give us some energy.”
Kaytlenn Whelden gives the team some back-court depth. Glenn notes Whelden’s ball-hawking skills. Steals in the back-court have fueled Ilwaco’s success in recent years. McMullen and Glenn helped bring this pressure last year.
“We have different players, but we’re going to do some of the same things,” Bittner said. “Pressuring the baseline, whether that’s with a zone or a man defense.”
In the frontcourt, Sunny Kemmer, a depth option as a sophomore last year, is a candidate to start this year. She showed some slick moves and passing ability in the post at a preseason practice.
Estella Sheldon, an athletic forward, got into the rotation for key minutes last year. She made a steal at half-court to set up Erika Glenn’s game-tying three-pointer at the delirious end of regulation against St. George’s at State.
Kylie Gray had a big junior-varsity season in the post as a freshman, showing power near the basket. “I think she could have played varsity as a freshman, but there were so many players ahead of her,” Glenn said. “But she’ll really shine this year.”
Glenn noted that the team will take some time to fully gel.
“That’ll come with time, as we play more as a new group,” she said. “But I don’t think it will take very long.”
Bittner said he may decide starting lineups on a case-by-case basis.
“We might mix our lineups up. We might go with Estella, Sunny, and Kylie Grey (all starting) against a big team…It’ll depend on who we’re playing, what they’re trying to do.” Bittner said he might play some four-guard lineups. “We’re more guard-oriented” than last year, he said.
The Pacific League has gotten stronger since Ilwaco joined the 2B ranks four years ago, putting up better showings against Central League opponents at Districts. Ilwaco has won the Pacific all four seasons of its current stint in the league. Life Christian is probably the favorite this year, bringing most key players back from a team that reached quarterfinals at State last year and was 14-2 in league play. Ocosta will also be competitive, with Hopfer and All-League first-teamer Kristi Raffelson. Raymond was runner-up two straight years before falling to 6-10 as a young team last season; they should be in an upward cycle. Willapa Valley returns a talented senior backcourt of Hannah Cook and Brooke Friese. South Bend was a tough out for loaded Ilwaco teams the last two seasons, giving them relatively competitive games. Bittner has set a goal of winning the league for the fifth straight season.
Ilwaco opens Wednesday at 7 p.m. at home against Chief Leschi. The Lady Fishermen host Life Christian Friday.