The Centralia girls basketball team found its groove last season, bouncing back from a winless campaign to make it back to the 2A district tournament. After the season, head coach Doug Ashmore stepped away from the program after seven years at the helm, with assistant Austin Danielson coming in to lead the way after a year on his staff.
Now it’s up to Danielson, who starred at Yelm as a player and went on to play at Pacific Lutheran, to keep the Tigers on the upward trajectory, and with a few key faces coming back, she thinks she has the squad to do so with.
“It’s all about three things: our attitude, our effort, and our execution,” Danielson said. “And if our attitude and our effort are in place, our execution will come. I’m just really appreciating the hard work the girls are putting in so far, and I think we’re on the right track to continue our growth.”
Graduating three seniors from last year’s team, Centralia brings back its junior duo of Emily Wilkerson and Makayla Chavez, who led the Tigers in scoring as sophomores in 2021-22.
And while Danielson is only expecting one freshman — Brooklyn Sprague — to make the varsity roster, Centralia will be bringing in a much older sort of new face to bolster the rotation in the post. After missing two seasons with recurring injuries, Gracee Cline is back on the court for her senior year down low.
“She’s very grateful to be back out there,” Danielson said. “It takes a lot of hard work when you’ve been out for a long time to come back from that sort of absence. But she has such a positive attitude and she’s such a hard worker.”
Danielson says the plan is to play Cline and Wilkerson off each other down low, turning the post into a strength for the Tigers.
Chavez is back to run things on the perimeter, with Liliana Babka returning on the wing after a fall donning the gloves as the Tigers’ starting goalkeeper on the soccer field.
“We have some winning experience now, which is always encouraging, and we’ve got players who are hungry to continue our success and build more,” Danielson said.
But with nine players suiting up on varsity — all of whom she wants to play ample minutes — Danielson is planning on putting out a bevy of combinations beyond just whichever five happen to be on the court when the ball is tipped.
“We’re in a position where our rotation is such that I’m not really too concerned with who the starters are, because I know that our bench players are going to come off the bench, make good progress, and contribute to the team too,” she said.
Centralia will tip its season off Dec. 1 at Tenino and play two more non-league games before opening 2A EvCo play against Aberdeen on Dec. 9.