By CONOR NICHOLL
Ellinwood girls are known for its fast pace. Last year, Ellinwood defeated Ell-Saline, 56-50, and committed 20 turnovers. Last winter, Ellinwood delivered 65 possessions a contest, on the upper end for tempo. This season, the Eagles are again over 60 possessions per game.
This winter, Ell-Saline returned a veteran core paced by Raleigh Kramer, Sadie Bradley and Raynee Hardesty, along with junior Keala Wilson and sophomore duo Bayleigh Schneider and Brin Hecker.
Kramer, Bradley and Schneider are all returning starters. Ell-Saline has struggled in girls’ basketball the last several years. The Cardinals posted a 6-14 mark last winter, the first season under coach Bill Gies.
Gies looked to play fast, and Ell-Saline opened 3-0. The Cardinals defeated Sacred Heart, 40-38, when Bradley delivered an offensive rebound and layup with 17 seconds left. Ell-Saline held off Minneapolis, 48-46. Then, Ell-Saline defeated struggling Solomon (39-11) and beat rival Bennington (42-36) when it trailed by nine.
The Cardinals faced Ellinwood on Dec. 14, then a 2-1 team. The Eagles returned three experienced players with senior Mary Dimitt and juniors Brittany Simpson and Bella Baker. Simpson has averaged more than 20 points a game this year.
Ell-Saline shot 33 percent from the field, 29 percent from beyond the arc. However, the Cardinals consistently played faster and delivered more hustle plays than Ellinwood, a Central Prairie League team. The game had 77 possessions, a remarkably high number. Ell-Saline forced 32 turnovers, collected 18 steals and was plus-14 in rebounding margin.
Schneider hit a key 3-pointer for a 28-20 lead, and Ell-Saline led by 11 at halftime. The Cardinals won 61-43. Ellinwood is currently 6-7 against a challenging schedule and tied a season-high for turnovers versus Ell-Saline.
The win propelled the Cardinals into the Class 2A state rankings. In the Dec. 21 Kansas Basketball Coaches Association poll, Ell-Saline entered seventh. This week, E-S is ninth as the Cardinals continue one of Kansas’ biggest turnarounds in basketball this winter.
E-S ended a three-game losing streak to Ellinwood that dated back to 2017. It marked the most points E-S has scored versus Ellinwood in at least 12 meetings and the biggest margin of victory in the series since 2011.
Ell-Saline is 10-1 after a 53-39 victory against Wichita Homeschool on Tuesday in the Berean Academy tournament. Kramer tallied 26 points. Ell-Saline could match up with host Berean, currently ranked fourth in 2A. E-S is 1-15 in its last 16 contests versus Berean.
Bennington, which is 9-5, had its third-most turnovers in a game versus Ell-Saline. The Bennington victory ended an eight-game losing streak in the series for the Cardinals that stretched back to Jan. 31, 2017.
Ell-Saline is part of the Republic County sub-state with Valley Heights (11-1), Bennington (8-5) and Herington (6-4) leading the way. The Cardinals are expected to have its best season since 2013-14. In the last four years, ES was a collective 12-71. Additionally, Ell-Saline boys’ basketball halted a 53-game losing streak with a 49-43 win versus Minneapolis on Dec. 7.
Ell-Saline girls have also enjoyed a sizable turnaround in softball and volleyball. Last spring, E-S finished 20-4 and qualified for Class 2-1A state softball. This fall, the Cardinals went 22-15 and had its best record in more than five years. Kramer was a consensus all-state pitcher and has committed to Southwestern College softball.
In basketball, Kramer has enjoyed several big games, including 11 in the season opener against Sacred Heart, 17 in the two-point win versus Minneapolis, 21 against Ellinwood and 13 in the Heart of America/Central Plains League crossover 47-38 win versus Wichita Independent on Dec. 16.
In three key wins against Bennington, Ellinwood and Wichita Independent, E-S held the teams to 35 percent shooting, including 21 percent from 3-point range. Those three games averaged 64 possessions a contest. E-S forced turnovers on 40 percent of possessions, an extremely high rate.
Wilson delivered a double-double in a win versus Inman with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Schneider delivered multiple double-figure contests. That included 15 points, including four early treys, in a 28-26 win versus Minneapolis on Jan. 18. Bradley has averaged more than three steals a game.