ELKO – Each of the last two seasons, the Elko girls basketball team has earned the No. 3 seed of the 3A North regional tournament, won its regional quarterfinal contest and then fallen in the regional semifinal to Lowry with a state berth on the line.
The 2017-2018 Lady Indians will look to find a way to get over the hump.
In all likelihood, the road to the 3A state tournament will lead straight through defending state champion Fallon and the Lady Bucks of Lowry once again.
When Elko hits the floor to start the season, the Lady Indians will be without their back-to-back 1st-Team All-State point guard, Alicia Marin.
Marin earned consecutive 1st-Team All-State selections each of her last two seasons in maroon and white, graduating in June.
Her 13.6 points and 4.2 steals per game were not only tops for Elko’s roster; they also led the entire 3A North in each category.
Although she stands at a physically unintimidating, perhaps gifted 5-foot-4, Marin grabbed 5.5 rebounds per contest, finishing in the top 10 in the league and placing third for a phenomenal-rebounding Elko team.
Marin not only led the Lady Indians in several key stats – her competitive nature and knowledge of the game were just as crucial.
She was always aware of key scenarios – time on the clock, score, foul situations (bonus, double-bonus).
“I could sure use another Marin,” said Elko coach Kaaren Ross. “She scored 22 of the alumni’s 36 points against us. She’s so competitive, quick and smart.”
Despite playing in nearly 20 fewer games than many former standouts on the all-time program lists, Marin still managed to finish in the top-10 all-time for scoring at EHS with 787 career points.
She finished eighth all-time at Elko for career steals with 229.
Despite the loss of Marin, the Lady Indians will return plenty of league-tested and honored talent for the upcoming season, starting with junior Alexis Elquist.
In just her sophomore season, Elquist garnered a 2nd-Team All-North selection.
She finished second on the team in scoring, ripping off double digits at 11.2 points per game.
Elquist led the Lady Indians at seven boards per contest, finishing third in the league – despite playing the majority of the time from the wing.
She led the Lady Indians from the free-throw line, knocking down 79 percent of her shots from the stripe.
Elquist fired at a 37-percent clip from beyond the arc and led Elko with a 45-percent mark from the floor, possessing a unique shooter’s touch – she can stroke it from anywhere on the floor.
“Elquist is so smooth. She just does everything naturally and can do things you can’t teach,” Ross said. “I think she’s only going to get better and take on more of a leadership role.”
As the season progressed, Elquist became more comfortable with putting the ball on the deck and driving to the bucket – providing moments of sheer brilliance in the open floor by breaking her defender down for her own bucket or setting up her teammates in transition.
She also triggers Elko’s inbound plays.
Her long arms and ability to close and rotate on defense allowed Elquist to finish third in the 3A North in blocked shots, averaging one per contest and adding two steals per game.
She scored a season-high 21 points and came away with a season-best eight steals against Sparks on Dec. 10, 2016, at Centennial Gymnasium, and she grabbed a season-high 13 rebounds on Jan. 10 at Centennial against Spring Creek – yanking down double-digit boards in five contests and finishing with four double-doubles.
Her season high in assists came on Jan. 20 at Centennial against Dayton, dropping five dimes on the Lady Dust Devils.
Elquist’s finest work showed up in the friendly confines of homes games, but as she matures and gains more experience on the road in hostile surroundings there may be no ceiling for her game – two years remaining in her career on the hardwood at the varsity level.
Two Elko players earned league honorable mentions during the 2016-2017 season, then-junior guard Gabe Rowley and then-sophomore post Brenna Hendrix.
Now a senior, Rowley averaged 7.2 points per game and Hendrix added 6.1 for the Lady Indians – each serving crucial roles in Elko’s impressive rebounding totals.
Hendrix grabbed 5.2 boards, doing the majority of her work as a reserve and providing instant energy off the bench for Elko.
Opposite Marin at the other guard position, Rowley snagged 4.8 rebounds per game.
Rowley dished two assists per game – serving up a season-best six on Feb. 10 in Dayton – and each player finished with 1.6 steals per contest.
Rowley’s season high in scoring came on Jan. 7 at Fernley, dropping 20 points in a wild 75-69 Elko victory.
Hendrix dropped a season-high 15 points on Jan. 11 in a non-league game at Wells, scoring 10 points twice on Dec. 10 against Sparks and again on Jan. 27 against Truckee, grabbing a season-best 10 rebounds on Feb. 11 in South Tahoe.
The inside-outside duo should serve as vitals cogs in Elko’s outlook for a trip to state.
Seniors Lauryn Drake and Lexi Baum will provide plenty of length in the middle for the Lady Indians, length that needs to be exploited.
Each approaching 6-feet tall, Drake and Baum give the Lady Indians the type of size and range not typically season across a lineup in the 3A North, combined with the 6-foot height of Hendrix and the 6-1 stature of Elquist.
Drake closed her junior year with averages of 5.2 points and 5.3 rebounds, turning in her most impressive output on Jan. 28 against Sparks with a monster double-double of 14 points and 17 rebounds – each season highs.
She recovered from a broken hand early in the year she sustained during the 2016 soccer season and is now entering the season completely healthy.
Baum ripped down a remarkable 18 rebounds on Feb. 4 against Fernley, finishing with a double-double on 10 points – scoring her season high of 11 points on Feb. 17 in Elko’s 55-40 loss in the regional semifinal against Lowry in Winnemucca.
Baum and Drake each made impactful plays in a close, 49-43 victory over the Lady Spartans on Jan. 24 in Spring Creek, Baum swatting a season-high five shots and Drake burying a cold-blooded corner three in the final minute.
The Lady Indians also return junior forward Kaitlyn Rizo, who scored a season-high 10 points on Jan. 20 against Dayton.
Another long frame will come from senior Sariah Pulley, who was still not 100-percent healthy during her junior year after a torn ACL in her sophomore track season.
Pulley posted single-game highs of six points, eight rebounds and four steals last year.
“I think I have a really solid group of seniors. They will definitely lead this team,” Ross said. “I think we are really set for about seven-deep. Hendrix is a great sixth player off the bench and I think Katie is probably our seventh.”
Coach’s daughter, sophomore Katie Ross, got a little taste of varsity action as a freshman last year during the regional tournament and can double as a guard-forward in reserve work for the Lady Indians.
Junior Phoebe Fagoaga brings back her elite-track speed to the guard position, scoring a season high of six points last year on Dec. 10, 2016, against Sparks.
Newcomers to the varsity level include junior guard Mackie Griggs and junior post Nevada Wachob.
“We just have to get everyone to the point that they’re thinking without thinking. Everything should be smooth, natural and come from instincts,” said coach Ross. “Right now, we have players who play differently in practice that they do in games. We need more game experience.”
The Lady Indians hit the floor for the first time at 6 p.m. Thursday against Division 4A program Carson, taking on 4A school Douglas at noon Friday and closing with another 4A road test versus Damonte Ranch at 3 p.m.