Kelso’s girls basketball team returned everyone from last year’s playoff run. Everyone but the Lassies’ coach, that is.
Jennifer Hamilton is the one tasked with replacing 11-year coach Lacey DeWeert, who stepped down from her post last spring to take an administrative position at the district.
So far, so good.
Behind a scrappy defense, a well-conditioned group of returners and a newfound confidence from point guard Alexis Kleven, the Lassies rolled past R.A. Long 58-33 on Thursday night at the Lumberdome.
“I had a lot of anticipation for this,” Hamilton said. “They took what I said in practice and put into this game. Once we calmed down, we got into our defensive mindset, and we broke it open.”
Kleven, a second-year starter and just a sophomore, tallied eight first-half points and was aggressive in the offense early, showing just how much she’s grown in the offseason. After battling some foul trouble while defending the talented Eastyn Reeves, Kleven returned and finished with 12 points.
Jordyn Dole chipped in 14 points, including a pair of runners on slicing dribble-drives into the lane. Tally Connors and Kylee Gibbs and Cooper Joy finished with six points apiece.
“It was so much fun; I love rivalry games,” Dole said. “I was just looking for my open teammates. I knew if I had a post, that was the better option. But if I had nobody on me, I needed to take it up.”
R.A. Long coach Jan Karnoski entered his second stint as the Jills coach, taking over for Erik Bertram, and saw early growing pains. Reeves shook off double-teams and physical play to finish with 13 points, including six points from the line.
“I was really disappointed. We’ve been working really hard on running the offense and making the other team work on defense,” Karnoski said. “The first half we competed really well (and went into the lockers down 33-23) but in the second half, our inexperience really showed up.”
Rayana Randall chipped in eight points, and freshman Bobbi Clark sparkled in the fastbreak game with six early points.
“They made a couple nice plays early in the game, saw the fastbreak and got it down there,” Karnoski said. “We have some fairly tall girls, and they move really well. If we can get a rebound, and Eastyn is such a good ballhandler and has great vision, she’ll get it down there.”
But the Lassies’ lengthy wings were too much for the Jills, and with a season’s worth of chemistry and a new coach that preached conditioning and defense leading up to the season opener, Kelso showed just why there’s so much excitement surrounding this year’s squad.
“She was one of our favorite coaches the past three years,” Dole said of her new head coach, who served as the junior-varsity coach and varsity assistant last year. “We love her. She’s really nice, and adds a new flavor to the team. It’s really refreshing to the team.”
Kelso opens its home slate on Tuesday against Ridgefield. The Jills take on Fort Vancouver at home on Tuesday.