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Sophomore center Ella Miller scored 10 points in the Trojans’ 75-11 victory over Waverly on December 13. (Photo by Raymond Holt)
Despite five straight wins to open the season, it’s not been the smoothest of starts for the East Lansing girls basketball team.
Injuries to projected starters junior Annelise Lebeda (torn ACL in preseason practice, out for the season) and sophomore Soraya Timms (sore knee, missed two games) have forced head coach Rob Smith to alter his lineup. The Trojans, however, have responded to the adversity with clear-cut victories at Pewamo-Westphalia and DeWitt sandwiched around convincing wins against Williamston, Waverly and Haslett. East Lansing’s average margin of victory this season is 30 points.
Smith was happy, if not downright ebullient, following the victory over DeWitt that capped an error-free run up to the holiday break.
“As things go, we know we’ll be two totally different teams when we meet again in February,” said Smith, now in his 18th season as girls varsity coach at ELHS. “We’re looking to get their best shot not only then but also in March if we have the opportunity to play again in the district.”
The Trojans’ immediate road ahead takes a steep pitch uphill with tonight’s 7 p.m. home game against three-time defending state champion Edison Academy (6-0), a Detroit charter school that plays a mixed schedule of in-state and out-of-state teams. The Pioneers have posted victories over Jenison (65-42) and Michigan Center (62-44), in addition to Illinois schools Bolingbrook (59-52) and Homewood-Flossmoor (44-41), Bishop Noll of Hammond, Ind. (76-46), and Africentric Early College of Columbus, Ohio (68-59).
Edison returns several key players from its string of consecutive state championships (2019, Division 2; 2018 and 2017, Division 3) including 5-foot-10 Gabby Elliott, a four-year starter who is considered a leading candidate for Miss Basketball; 5-foot-7 junior point guard Damiya Hagemann, among the top players in the 2021 class; and 6-foot sophomore guard Ruby Whitehorn, among the top players in the class of 2022.
Elliott and Hagemann averaged 17 and 14 points per game, respectively, a year ago. Senior returnees Ariel Jenkins, Daija Tyson, Dareonna Little and Shaulana Wagner add plenty of depth and experience for the Pioneers, who are trying to become only the second team in Michigan high school girls basketball history to win four straight state titles. Hamady High School (Flint) won four in a row from 1978 through 1981.
Nye leads the Trojans in scoring with a 15-point average but the University of Illinois-bound senior has had plenty of help from fellow seniors Sanaya Gregory, Ahlura Lofton and Sug Williams. Sophomore forward Corinne Jones has stepped prominently into a starting role to fill the void left by Lebeda’s injury while Timms, Miller, Allie Mayes, Bre’Naya Lane, Payton Baker and Paris Hayes give Smith a potent and energy-filled rotation to employ.
“We’re excited to play Edison Academy,” said Smith, whose team will play its next seven – and eight of nine – games at home, through the Feb. 7 rematch with DeWitt. “I would have preferred a two-week vacation (over the holidays) but we’ve got to be ready to go to start the new year.”
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