By CONOR NICHOLL
Elkhart girls’ basketball captured the Hi-Plains League championship for a third straight winter and remains one of the few undefeated squads left in Kansas. Before 2020, Elkhart had not won the league tournament title since 1977.
Elkhart is currently 11-0, including a 56-33 win versus Lakin in the tournament championship game Saturday. As well, on Jan. 14, Elkhart defeated Boise City (Okla.), 60-44, and beat Syracuse, 58-25, last Thursday. On Dec. 17, Elkhart held off Syracuse, 44-42, in its closest game this winter.
The Wildcats have already made 53 treys after they sunk 59 all last season. That included three in the tournament title.
Elkhart is currently ranked seventh in Class 2A by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association rankings as of Jan. 18. Elkhart and Sterling (12-0) are both in the Sublette sub-state. Sterling is the defending state champion and has won 26 straight games, the longest current streak in Kansas.
Sterling, Elkhart, Pittsburg Colgan, Jackson Heights and Berean Academy are the lone undefeated 2A girls squads. Sterling and Elkhart are the only ones in the same sub-state.
Elkhart, with veteran coach Rex Richardson, has continued to impress after it graduated Chevelle Ralstin, the co-league player of the year. Ralstin delivered 13 points, 8.1 rebounds and three steals a contest in 2021-22. She also averaged a double-double as a sophomore and junior and completed her career with 990 career points. She is currently playing for Kansas Wesleyan.
As well, the Wildcats lost Carrie Runkle. She delivered 9.7 points and 6.3 rebounds a game. Elkhart had a defeat to Boise City, along with close losses to Stanton County and Spearville. Ralstin and Runkle had been team captains multiple years.
Statistically, Elkhart was a strong defensive team and permitted just .59 points per possession. Elkhart averaged 66 possessions a contest, a quicker pace than most teams. The Wildcats, though, turned the ball over on 28 percent of possessions, made 2.7 treys a contest and shot 26 percent from 3-point range.
This season, Elkhart brought back four players, all seniors, who averaged between 4.8 and 8.7 points a contest: Kamry Richardson, Sydney Brillhart, Maycee Eagan and Jenni Forbes. All four are returning starters. As a sophomore, Forbes hit the game-winning buzzer-beater trey in a 51-50 win versus Syracuse in the tournament championship.
They have helped the Wildcats stay among 2A’s top teams.
Elkhart has generally been a .500 or better team in the last 14 years. Only once, a 7-13 mark in ’13-14, has the Wildcats won under nine games. Since then, Elkhart is 11-10, 11-10, 15-7, 10-12 and 10-11 before the big improvement the last three winters.
Elkhart has posted 18-5, 19-3 and 11-0 marks the past three seasons. Elkhart has two all-time state appearances, in 1996 and 2009, per Kansas historian Carol Swenson.
This year, Elkhart has balanced scoring. Five players average between eight and 10.3 points a contest. Richardson has 10 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists a game. Sophomore Isabel Gonzalez has stepped up with eight points, 4.7 steals, 3.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds per contest.
Junior Nakaela O’Hair has 10 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. Forbes has 10.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.2 steals a contest.
Gonzalez and O’Hair combined for 3.3 points a contest last winter.
Eagan has 9.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. Seniors Kaidence Alvarado and Brillhart have combined for 4.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and two assists a contest.
This winter, Elkhart has delivered even stronger defense that is statistically state championship caliber. Elkhart has permitted .43 points per possession. The Wildcats have upped its offensive efficiency from .83 points per possession last winter to .91 this year. Elkhart is 53 of 180 (29 percent) from beyond the arc.
The turnovers have tumbled. Elkhart is only at 21 percent turnover margin. No player has more than two turnovers a contest. Last season, five players did.
Elkhart has key games against Stanton County on Feb. 1, and Syracuse again on Feb. 4. SC is the last Hi-Plains squad to defeat Elkhart in a 49-43 contest on Feb. 2, 2021. In ’19-20, Elkhart dropped just one league game, a 50-39 loss to Lakin in mid-February.