LA GRANDE — The sophomores of the La Grande girls basketball team have taken the court by storm this season. Kylin Collman, Avery Albrecht and Kali Avila, three of the Tigers’ starting lineup, have proven that hard work and great team play wins games.
After beating Ontario Friday night 54-45, the Tigers have won their last six games in a row and they have a perfect Greater Oregon League record of 6-0. This final GOL game in Ontario has brought their season record to 15-5 and places them ninth in the state’s 4A division.
The only tournament games left for them to play this season (TBA) will determine their final state standing.
Even though coaches are usually drawn to the more experienced upperclassmen players, Head Coach Doug Girdner, who has received three votes in the state’s girls basketball coaches’ poll, found the winning combination with these three sophomores.
Also in the starting line up are senior Haley White and junior Auslin McDaniel-Perrin.
“It’s always quite a process figuring out who is the best to start with for the year,” Girdner said. “We try two or three lineups and it depends on who starts well together and who plays well together.”
Before high school, the three girls — Collman, Albrecht, and Avila — played basketball with and against one another for several years. Now, they have found themselves together again, this time on the La Grande High School varsity basketball team.
Supported by their families, all three were playing the sport they love by the fourth grade.
“Ever since I could hold a basketball, it’s been a big part of my life,” Albrecht said.
The three of them played in the local Ametuer Athletic Union, where they began to develop as players.
The AAU is a national non-profit organization dedicated to the development of amateur sports and physical fitness for second through 12th grade youth.
“[The three of us] really started to build our teamwork and [started] trusting each other and that got us championship after championship [in La Grande’s AAU],” Collman said.
They have been embraced by the older players in the league and feel they are improving due to playing against those with more experience.
“It is a little bit intimidating, scary at times. I just go out there and try to prove myself and work as hard as I can,” Avila said.
“They have a lot more experience, but we’re just trying to keep up with them,” Collman said.
However daunting it may be, playing these older girls and facing their technical know how on the court is not hindering or preventing La Grande’s starting sophomores from playing their best.
“It’s a great experience because I’m getting challenged. I’m developing more as a player because I’m playing players better than me,” Albrecht said. “I want to play at the highest level I can possibly play.”
Balancing home life and sports is a challenge, but the three have managed to find the time to play for their school and community, work hard in school and still have time for themselves and family.
According to Girdner, each girl adds diversity to the team that has faced many challenges.
Originally, another player, Lexus Miller-Moylan, was in the starting lineup for the first part of the season. However she moved to portland soon after league play began and opened up a spot for Collman to fill.
In addition to losing Miller-Moylan, the team lost two other girls, one to injuries and one to academic problems. Then, to top it all off, they also lost Lacey Miles to a torn ACL about a month ago.
“More has happened to this team than any other I have coached,” Girdner said.
“We never talk about how we are going to struggle. They just step up and get out there and get it done.
“Kylin is a great 3-point shooter, Avery can do a little of everything, and Kali is a confident utility player who doesn’t seem to care if she scores zero points or if she scores 20 as long as she is there for her team.”
They are striving for outstanding academic achievements and each of them plans to continue making basketball a part of their life after high school.
Avila, who also played on the varsity team as a freshman the year before, said she wants to play either basketball or volleyball in college.
“I push myself to get good grades, to get straight A’s,” Avila said.
They all work hard academically, but basketball is their main focus.
“I used to dance, but I wanted to play basketball more,” Collman said.
“I’ve always dreamed of going to OSU, but I’ll go where ever basketball takes me,” Albrecht said.
Many of their dreams and goals will come after high school ends for them. Until then, they will continue to play sports, work hard in school and represent the community and the Tigers when they travel.
There may be no better ambassadors for La Grande in the coming months and years.