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EHS vs Lynden_12

Ellensburg High School’s Rylee Leishman (10) shoots against Lynden High School’s Ruby VanderHaak (25) during the WIAA Hardwood Classic last March at Yakima Valley SunDome.

Just like every other sport, basketball will be shortened considerably due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Just like other sports, players will have to wear masks and have just a few days to practice before playing their first game next Tuesday.

But unlike other sports, the timing of the basketball season in Washington is not ideal for programs like Ellensburg High School.

With perhaps one of their best teams in school history, and a legitimate chance to make a run at the state title, the Bulldogs will have to settle for a shortened season that also happens to overlap with a lot of club and travel ball schedules.

“We’re just in a really bad time for them to make a decision,” EHS girls basketball coach Jeff Whitney said.

Girls like Olivia Anderson, Dylan Phillip, and Rylee Leishman all play for competitive AAU teams that compete this time of year. Anderson has already said she can’t compete in the last week or so of Ellensburg’s season because U16 Team USA Team Trials in May.

Though travel ball offers the opportunity for girls to be recruited nationwide and compete across the country, there is very high value in high school basketball, too. For Anderson, it was the highlight of her freshman year.

Whitney said there may be games where girls on those highly competitive AAU squads won’t be able to compete for Ellensburg throughout the season.

“They’re all big pieces to our puzzle and we need them all,” Whitney said. “Not having a playoff or state makes it a little easier, but I feel like we’re putting athletes in a really tough spot to choose.”

Another challenge is the challenge that all sports and all teams have been facing: a huge lack of practice time. Because a large portion of Whitney’s varsity squad is competing in spring sports like softball, track, and tennis, he said only four varsity girls have been able to practice so far. By the time their seasons end this weekend, Whitney will likely just have Monday to work with his entire team before their game on Tuesday against Prosser.

Oh, and he hasn’t been able to scrimmage with the entire team for nearly 14 months.

“I feel like we’re starting over in a sense just getting back on the floor together,” Whitney said. “Fourteen months is just a long time to be away. I’m not sure where we’re at or where our opponents are at this point. Honestly, I’ve never seen this before. We might come out and play lights out, or it may be an adjustment for conditioning purposes alone and everybody getting back on the same page.”

But despite the challenges the Bulldogs will face this year, Whitney said that the kids have responded incredibly well, better than the adults, in fact.

And though Whitney doesn’t necessarily know what the year will look like, he knows he has an incredible group that is just excited to play.

“We kind of have all the intangibles you need on a team,” he said. “You have to have leaders, No. 1. You have to have your scorers, and we’ve got several of those. We have a team that defends pretty well, and we have some role players that fill their role to a degree that we need to be successful. When you look at championship teams, we have that makeup, we really do.”

Come Tuesday, we’ll see how the light-on-practice-time Bulldogs look against the Prosser Mustangs, but one thing is for certain: 13 games is better than no games at all, and for the seniors who get to have some finality to their high school experience, June 4’s Senior Night will be a special one for this resilient group.

Reach Sports Editor Alec Dietz at Twitter: @AlecDietz

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