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East Valley’s young, budding

Erin Wallman, a returning all-league player for the East Valley Knights, plays offense in practice Wednesday at East Valley High School. (Jesse Tinsley)
Erin Wallman, a returning all-league player for the East Valley Knights, plays offense in practice Wednesday at East Valley High School. (Jesse Tinsley)

Coach sees Knights making progress as league play nears

It’s the little injuries that wear you down.

Rob Collins’ East Valley Knights are working through a number of aches, pains and strains as they open the nonleague portion of the 2012-’13 girls basketball season. Of the 10 players he expects to be on his varsity roster for the regular season opener Jan. 4 against Clarkston, Collins got his ninth healthy Wednesday, one night after East Valley saw an 11-point halftime lead against Freeman evaporate into a 55-47 loss.

“It hasn’t been anything serious – we have a lot of players who play soccer in the fall and some of them are a little banged up,” he said. “I have one more player who strained the MCL (medial collateral ligament) in her knee and she’s healing up from that. But she’ll be back before the end of the month.”

The Knights opened the season with a loss to Mt. Spokane at home, 62-49, then scored a 36-29 win over North Central.

“That’s the good thing about our (Great Northern) league,” he said. “We don’t start league play until January, so you get a chance to work on a few things. We like to play the best teams we can find. Right now I think we’ve played better in the games we’ve lost than in the game we won.

“The first half we played against Freeman is probably the best half of basketball we’ve played at East Valley for at least a couple years, maybe more than that. We took it to a very good basketball team. But in the second half, Freeman’s veterans took over and I don’t know exactly what happened with us. I think those two seniors, (Molly) McIntyre and (Alisha) Sorensen, could easily end up being the two best players we’ll see this year.”

The Knights got back in the gym Wednesday and had a good workout, the coach said. That’s always a good sign early in the season.

“We had a really good first half (against Freeman) and we can build on that,” he said. “We had a bad second half and we can put that behind us.”

This year’s East Valley squad is young, Collins said. The Knights will have four seniors, a junior, a sophomore and four freshmen.

“The good thing is that these freshmen are all pretty savvy players,” Collins said. “They’ve played a lot of basketball and they understand what we’re trying to do. Our soccer team was knocked out early in the playoffs, and for the first time in a while we were able to start practice with everyone there. Right now, I would say that we’re ahead of where I thought we’d be, but it’s not because of soccer. It’s because these freshmen are all very smart basketball players.”

Collins said he’s making progress unifying the system from middle school into high school.

“We’re working on that, but you have to include the AAU teams that these kids play on – and that’s where this freshman group has played a lot of basketball,” he said. “But the thing is we tailor our offense to the personnel we have every year, so it changes depending on the kinds of players we have.”

This year, that means more up-tempo play to take advantage of the added speed the freshman class brings. The full-court pressure defense that is a Collins signature at EV will have to wait until everyone is healthy.

“We will do more of that when we get our full bench back,” he said. “We’re going to be playing 10 deep this year and that will let us play the pressure defense we like to play. If we tried to do that now, when we were down to eight players, we’d be wearing ourselves out.”

At the heart of this year’s squad is senior Erin Wallman, a 5-foot-10 post who earned All-GNL first-team honors a year ago. She’s scored in double digits and rebounded in double digits in each of the team’s first three games.

Also back is guard Kendra Morscheck, who scored a career-high 15 points against Freeman.

“She has a lot more confidence in her shooting this year,” Collins said. “That’s going to help. Some of our freshmen are pretty good shooters and that will help us because we haven’t been great shooting from the outside.”

A year ago the Great Northern League boasted the state champion Clarkston Bantams – a team that gave most defenses fits.

“Jamie Weisner was one of the best players I’ve seen,” Collins said. “People would ask me why we didn’t just box-and-one Weisner. I’d have to explain to them that, one, we don’t have anyone who can defend her one-on-one. Two, if we do that, who’s going to defend KC McConnell? And who’s going to defend Sierra Higheagle, who killed us with three long, long-range threes when they played here last year.

“My kid came to the bench and asked ‘Should I step out to defend that?’ I told her no and then she started making them. I had to go back and tell her to start stepping out to defend that shot.”

This year’s Clarkston team, without those three standout seniors, will be a much different team. The league should be a horse race among Pullman, West Valley and Cheney, with East Valley in the thick of things.

“Colville is kind of a wild card coming in this year,” Collins said. “I do see this all coming down to the last couple of league games to decide who’ll win the league and reach the playoffs.”