ADNA — For the first time since March, Adna High School athletics are back in full swing this week, though looking much different than it ever has before.
Adna girls basketball coach Chris Bannish waits at the main entry to the high school with a non-contact infrared thermometer, taking players’ temperatures as they enter the building on Monday. Inside the gymnasium, players stretch and loosen up, each wearing masks, as they prepare for a 90-minute workout session, just their third practice this fall.
Adna was one of the final school districts in Lewis County to allow team workouts after the WIAA opened up practice periods for teams across the state on Sept. 28. Teams can now workout in pods of six or less, and Bannish has his 12 varsity players broken up into two groups working on a variety of drills.
“There’s a new sense of urgency with these guys,” Bannish said. “They know that any moment it can be taken away from them, as far as the opportunity to even be in here.”
The one bright spot is it’s been easy for Bannish to get his players to buy in to what he’s selling because they’re just happy being back in the gym practicing with their teammates, especially after a summer of practically no sports.
“There’s not one player here that doesn’t understand what we’re doing, so it’s nice just to pick up where we were last year and keep building on it,” Bannish said.
The Pirates are coming off their first state tournament appearance in three years and fifth in Bannish’s eight years at the helm. They went 21-7 overall and 8-2 in league play, finishing in a three-way tie in the Central 2B League. They entered the postseason with a No. 4 seed at districts and advanced to the opening round of the state tourney where they took a season-ending loss to Northwest Christian (Colbert).
But that state experience and the momentum built up is something Bannish hopes will carry into this season — if there even ends up being a season. The Pirates lose a trio of seniors, Tyas Pannette, Makaela Meister and leading-scorer Payton Aselton, who was a first-team all-league selection after averaging 14.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
The Pirates are far from depleted, however. Returning are four of five starters, including lone senior guard Ellie Sliva, a tenacious defender; junior forward Kaylin Todd, who could likely end up as this year’s leading scorer for the Pirates; sophomore forward Karlee VonMoos, who’s been a starter since she was an eighth grader; and formidable 5-foot-9 junior post Faith Wellander who will be crucial for the Pirates down low.
For Wellander, who’s been a varsity starter since she was a freshman, she’s just happy to be back on the court and dribbling a ball again.
“It feels really good,” Wellander said. “I missed playing basketball with my team. Being away and not playing sports is not OK with me.”
Taking Aselton’s spot in the starting rotation will be 5-foot-6 guard Summer White, who turned red-hot in the second half of last year and ended up averaging 20 minutes a game as a spark plug off the bench. Sophomore guard Brooklyn Loose figures to take over White’s sixth-man role on the team.
There are really no newcomers to the program, in a sense, as even the incoming freshmen, such as Evalena Thomas and Natalee Werner, all played on junior varsity last year as eighth graders and are familiar with what’s expected of them.
It’s been a bit different with Aselton gone as the undisputed team leader, but Todd, who’s been working out at Thorbeckes Athletic Club, said this team is full of talent and she expects multiple players to step up and take over the scoring role when needed.
“We definitely have a lot of shooters now,” Todd said. “I think we’ll still do good but it won’t be the same.”
Sliva agreed, saying there’s obviously a big offensive well to fill but is confident they have the experience and pieces to adjust.
“I feel like we’ll be pretty good,” Sliva said. “We’ll have to work a little hard now that Payton’s not here. Somebody’s going to have to step up. All of us have the potential, it’s just a matter of what we’re going to do.”
This is Bannish’s first group since he took over as head coach nine years ago where the majority of his players are hoops-first kids, and it’s something he figures will pay off come crunch time.
“They say the right things, they know what’s expected of them,” Bannish said. “I’ve got a lot of kids who want to be here and are willing to compete.”
And that’s saying something, considering most of the team are multiple-sport athletes. Many players leave basketball practice at 4:30 and head out to either the soccer field or stay in the gym and wait for volleyball practice. Those players are putting in up to four hours of practice each night.
For Ellie Sliva, she’s just grateful that the school district allowed the team to come back and practice again. She took her springer spaniel, Trigger, on long walks during the summer to stay in shape while gyms were closed.
The mask isn’t a big deal, Sliva said, it’s actually being out of shape that’s been the toughest thing to adjust to.
“It’s hard but if it’s what we have to do it’s totally worth it,” Sliva said. “If I just have to wear a mask for an hour and a half each day, I don’t care.”
A lot of that willingness to look past the temperature checks, mask-wearing and other protocol-following, Bannish said, is due to the kids not being able to play sports the last eight months or longer. Another part of it is the blue-collar tradition that Adna has ingrained in its culture. They know what hard work is and aren’t afraid of rolling up their sleeves and getting things done.
“This is a group that’s very humble,” Bannish said. “They’re not arrogant and know they have to work for what they get because basketball never came natural to many of these kids. They’ve had to work for everything they’ve got.”
WIAA’s tentative athletic calendar has basketball slated to being a pre-practice period from Dec. 28 to Jan. 3. The regular season is scheduled to go from Jan. 3 to to Feb. 21, with a postseason from Feb. 22-28.