La Center girls basketball team earns state berth

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The La Center High School girls basketball team has moved on to the state tournament after they beat King’s Way, 57-38, on Saturday, Feb. 19. 

The team previously won against Eatonville, 61-32, at Fort Vancouver on Thursday, Feb. 17 to earn a spot at regionals.

During the state competition, the Wildcats will first face Annie Wright at 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 25 at Mount Tahoma High School. Coach Brittney Stryker said if they win that game, they could potentially see four more games in the tournament. 

During its game against King’s Way, Gianna D’Emilio was able to score 15 points, while Kylee Stephens netted 20. Annabelle Atwood also scored nine points, Malyah Cooley brought in six and Talia Wise added two. 

Despite losing against Tenino, 27-21, on Feb. 15, the team was able to turn it around in their matchup against Eatonville.

“It went well,” said Stryker of the game against Eatonville. “I felt like the girls play really well together. We had a tough loss against Tenino Tuesday night and our offense wasn’t really flowing well. To see them bounce back from that and get this win was huge. You could tell (there was) such a huge difference in their energy.”

Stryker said D’Emilio was the high scorer of the game against Eatonville. D’Emilio secured a double-double, scored 21 points and had 11 rebounds. 

“She was a force (on Feb. 17) for us,” she said. 

Then there was the point guard, Atwood, who had a “great game” against Eatonville, scoring six points and seven assists. 

“She just controlled the game and the tempo for us, which was huge,” Stryker said. 

Alyse Webberley, on the other hand, scored 14 points and shot six-on-six from the pre-throw line in the fourth quarter. Webberley was injured for most of the season and returned during the Eatonville game and “played big,” according to Stryker. Stephens scored 15 points during the game against Eatonville, while Cooley scored four points and five rebounds. As for Jessie Tomberlin, she had a free throw she secured in the second quarter.

“Overall, they looked like a different team (Thursday night),” Stryker said. “They played well together, played great defense, and just stayed tough. Eatonville was a very physical team. It seems like all the teams in that Evergreen league are just more physical, so it’s always good to get a win against a more physical team.”

Stryker noted how D’Emilio “plays with such intensity” and works hard on the defensive end and matches that same drive on the offensive end. Stryker said D’Emilio worked on her game tremendously between last season and the current one. Atwood, who is a senior but new to La Center High School, was a “huge addition” to the team, Stryker said, bringing a level of composure to the court and leadership. 

“She makes great plays when we need it and can read the floor really well,” the coach said. 

Stephens has played for La Center all four years and has always been a big scorer, Stryker said. She adds a “nice touch” to her game, which makes her a notable competitor. 

Webberley, on the other hand, is one of the tallest. The 6-foot-1 player can  “shoot threes with the best of them,” Stryker said, which is accompanied by a “beautiful” jump shot, and a good, positive attitude.  Cooley, a senior post player, is “such a joy to coach,” Stryker said, noting she knows where to play on defense as she rotates and rebounds well.  

Since the Ridgefield High School’s girls basketball season ended, the boys competed in a tournament winning second place in their league, but lost to W.F. West, 48-44. Despite that, coach Jason Buffum said it was the first time they reached second place and the furthest they’ve gotten in the playoffs in the last 10 years. He’s happy they were able to get as far as they did.

“We’ve had a good group of guys, with eight seniors and other guys that put in a lot of time,” said Buffum. “The COVID years have been interesting because we’ve had a good year last year, and we would have advanced further but there was no state (tournament) last year.”

Since three of the team’s top six players did not return this year, the team had to make adjustments to fill those spots. Zac Warren stepped up as point guard this season because the player who previously held that post transferred schools. Then there was Nate Semlick who had a “huge impact” on the team as a starter this season. As for Sid Bryant, the team’s only junior, he stepped up to the plate to fill a spot left open after one of the team’s players was injured in football. Buffman said Bryant was “the most improved player in a short amount of time I’ve ever seen.”

The team had six seniors this year, so Buffum said they’ll need to fill those spots left by the graduating students next year.



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