EJ basketball girls achieve dreams, endure nightmares

Posted 2/7/24

By Brian MacKenzie and Taylor Frank


The East Jefferson Rivals girls basketball team rode an emotional rollercoaster during the last two weeks: From the dizzying heights of an …

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EJ basketball girls achieve dreams, endure nightmares


By Brian MacKenzie and Taylor Frank


The East Jefferson Rivals girls basketball team rode an emotional rollercoaster during the last two weeks: From the dizzying heights of an historic upset win over Cascade Christian, the Rivals plummeted to a puzzling upset loss to Life Christian, then rose from those depths to dispatch Charles Wright before nosediving into disaster against Annie Wright.

The Rivals realized a longstanding ambition by defeating Nisqually League powerhouse Cascade Christian on Jan. 19 in Puyallup. Chimacum and Port Townsend first joined forces as the Rivals four years ago, and had never before beaten the Cougars. Emerging victorious over Cascade Christian “felt unbelievable,” said sophomore post Penina Vailolo. “Like a dream.”

The rematch began inauspiciously for EJ when senior post Abbie LIske got in foul trouble early in the game, forcing Coach Lorraine Rimson to sit her for the balance of the half. The Cougars capitalized by pouncing to a 13-10 lead by the end of the first quarter. However, EJ rallied. Reserve posts Dylin Shockley and Juliette O’Hara stepped up in Liske’s stead.

“We were connecting with each other, and trying new things,” Vailolo said.

Throughout the game, the Rivals mounted an unrelenting full court press that caused Cascade Christian to cough up turnovers and miss shots. Suffocating defense and clutch shooting enabled EJ to end the first half with a narrow 22-21 lead.

Liske came off the bench in the second half to increase defensive pressure on the Cougars, helping the Rivals maintain control for the rest of the game and secure a 41-36 victory.

Shockley, Vailolo, and freshman guard Teri Wiley tied for the team lead in scoring with 10 points each. Vailolo also grabbed a team-leading nine rebounds. Wiley seized six rebounds, and led the team in steals (four) and assists (four).

“It was very much a team effort,” said point guard Kay Botkin. “We had really good ball movement, which opened up shots. Dylin and Teri’s shooting was on point.”

Botkin herself contributed six points, three rebounds, and three steals.

The Cougars decisively defeated the Rivals in Chimacum on Dec. 7, and entered the game ranked third in the conference. However, EJ’s upset win in the road rematch enabled the Rivals to rise to 6-2 and seize third place in the Nisqually League for themselves, while dropping Cascade Christian to 6-3 and fourth place.

“It was an important game to win,” Botkin said, as the level of competition made it a preview for district playoffs, and that night the Rivals “felt like the dream team.”

Their dream turned into a nightmare the following week in Tacoma against eighth-place Life Christian, then 2-8.

EJ had downed the Eagles in PT on Dec. 15, 43-30, and the Jan. 26 road rematch began similarly. Despite playing without Wiley, a key starter sidelined by a foot injury, the Rivals rocketed to a 36-22 lead by halftime. Then, in the third quarter, Life Christian turned it around. Taking flight, the Eagles applied a full court press, forced several EJ turnovers, and sank several three-pointers to claw their way back into the game.

Momentum favored the soaring Eagles, but time seemed on EJ’s side: the Rivals still held a narrow lead as the seconds ticked away with less than a minute to play.

Then, another break for Life Christian: After a timeout, the Eagles inbounded the ball and play resumed, but game officials failed to restart the clock for several seconds. That granted Life Christian just enough time to sink the go-ahead shot with eight seconds left in regulation and upset EJ, 55-54.

Several Rivals played valiantly. Botkin drained three three-pointers while racking up a team-leading 15 points; the point guard also nabbed four steals. Vailolo scored 12 points and snagged four rebounds; she and fellow post Liske each blocked five shots. Shockley added another 11 points.

After the letdown at Life Christian, the 6-3 Rivals dreamed of redemption against 4-9 Charles Wright Academy. EJ had hammered the Tarriers in Tacoma on Jan. 3, soaring 57-33, but the Jan. 30 rematch in PT proved far more difficult. Wiley remained injured, and now an illness felled Liske. So the Rivals entered the game lacking two of their five usual starters. Moreover, Coach Rimson had to miss the game due to a professional obligation, so JV Coach Samantha Miller and junior high Coach Trish Williamson filled in for her.

EJ started slow, but woke up in the second quarter and led 25-15 by halftime. The Tarriers rallied to seize a 30-29 advantage by the end of the third quarter. However, the Rivals responded in the fourth by reasserting their smothering press and lighting up the scoreboard to finish strong and win, 48-35.

Vailolo put up a team-leading 19 points, pulled down 10 rebounds, and blocked four shots. Botkin again scored 15, including three clutch three-pointers, but this time the point guard also hauled in five rebounds, dished five assists, and snatched ten steals. 

In Wiley’s absence, fellow freshman phenomenon Kaetyn Riley filled in ably, scoring eight points against both Life Christian and Charles Wright. Against the Tarriers, Riley also corralled eight rebounds, lassoed five steals, and served up three assists.

Last Thursday, the 7-3 Rivals ventured to Tacoma for the season’s first showdown with 12-1 Annie Wright Academy, the Nisqually League’s second-place team.

With Rimson still unavailable to coach, Miller and Williamson continued to helm an increasingly shorthanded EJ squad. Liske remained too ill to play. Wiley returned, but the foot injury that had kept her out of the past two games limited her playing time against the Gators.

Further misfortune afflicted the Rivals when Vailolo rolled her ankle in pregame warmups. She got taped up and toughed it out, scoring 16 points and grabbing a bevy of rebounds, but then rolled her ankle again in the third quarter and had to exit the game.

EJ lost yet another starter when Botkin fouled out early in the fourth quarter. All that attrition enabled the Gators to thrash the Rivals, 69-24. The road loss dropped EJ to 7-4 and back down to fourth place, behind Cascade Christian (9-5).

After the bad dream at Annie Wright, the Rivals’ regular season rollercoaster accelerated. EJ must face five teams in seven days, a glut of games forced by the rescheduling of several contests snowed out last month. The Rivals’ regular season finale is a home rematch against the Gators in PT Feb. 8 at 7 p.m.