Elle Burland has quietly assumed a spot in the East Valley record books.
The senior is the first Knight to play in four consecutive state basketball tournaments.
“It’s kind of weird, to be honest,” she explained. “Looking back there are a lot of great memories about playing at state. But it’s gone by so quick!”
Burland was part of the first team to qualify for back-to-back state tournaments. And the first to go to back-to-back-to-back tournaments.
Burland was the fifth starter with a group of four seniors who earned East Valley’s best state finish, a third-place trophy.
“I’ve played with that group of seniors since I was in the fourth grade,” Burland said. “Yes, my cousin (Hannah Burland) was part of that group but they were all just like family to me.”
Burland said that group had a deep-set, tight-knit chemistry.
“I remember thinking that I needed to do everything I could to recreate that kind of chemistry this year,” she said. “We have a solid group of girls who played last year and knew what I was talking about and we worked really hard to bring in the youngsters.
“One of those freshmen is Brie Holecek. I just love her to death. She’s young but she plays with the same select program that I play with. She has a lot of experience playing high-level basketball so this year has been no surprise for her.”
The fourth trip to state, however, is a bit of a surprise.
“The first couple of games were a little strange,” she said. “But pretty soon it all started to come together.
“With a whole new team I was skeptical that we could get back to state. But after seeing what everyone brought to the table, and after we started to develop our chemistry and become close friends, it all came together. We just kind of said to ourselves ‘Let’s prove everyone wrong.’ ”
The only bump in the Knights road through the Greater Northern League came at home against Clarkston.
The Bantams had the game tied at 41-41, with time running out when Riley Denton launched a heave from midcourt that found nothing but net for a 44-41 win.
“I was right there when she took that shot and I had a sinking feeling,” Burland said. “We didn’t have a very good game and it never really felt like it was our game to win, to be honest. When they won, I just sort of tipped my hat to them and we all moved on.”
With that kind of a game completely out of their system, the Knights set about getting through the third round of GNL play unscathed. As they head to Yakima for the state tournament, they’re riding a 10-game win streak.
Burland said the state-tournament experience is something she treasures.
The first three trips to Yakima the team had the same sponsor family looking after them and showing them around.
This year, they weren’t available, she said. But she’s not going to let that dampen the experience.
“We do the same things,” Burland said. “We stay at the same hotel. It’s a tradition that we always go to the Olive Garden for dinner. And after dinner we always get together as a team in one of our hotel rooms and we play Charades.”
It’s not just the team that takes part in Game Night, she allowed. Coach Rob Collins has been known to take part.
“I have a memory of him acting out a whale jumping out of the water,” she laughed. “Let me put it this way: I wish I had video of that moment.”
In many ways, she said, that night-before tradition is one of the secrets of East Valley’s state success – each of the last three trips has brought home a state trophy.
“We laugh and laugh and we’re all relaxed by the time it comes to play the game,” she said.
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