Railers engineer turnaround
By CONOR NICHOLL
Ellis High School girls' basketball coach Perry Mick knew his Railroaders would be stronger than last season's 9-12 record. However, Mick said he was "quite shocked" by the Railers' 12-1 start and Mid-Continent League tournament title Saturday.
Ellis defeated Smith Center 73-63 in overtime at Gross Memorial Coliseum to end the Lady Red's 30-game regular season winning streak. Smith Center was undefeated and ranked No. 4 at the time.
In the newest rankings released Monday, Smith Center is ranked No. 3, while Ellis stands at No. 4 in Class 2A.
"I didn't know that we would be quite to this level," Mick said.
Senior point guard Bailey Hensley, easily the team's most experienced player and a four-year starter, played on a team her freshman year that lost in the MCL and sub-state finales. The past two seasons, young Ellis teams finished under .500 before being one of the biggest changes among elite teams in the 2A classification this winter.
"I am not surprised," Hensley said. "I knew we could do it. We have worked so hard and we have all just come together as a team. We are always encouraging to each other."
"If one person is doing something good, the whole team is cheering them on no matter who it is," she added. "We are just very encouraging to each other and that just keeps pushing us. We knew that we could do it."
Off to the best start in Mick's 14 years, Ellis remains a young team with just two seniors.
"Anytime when you have a few years when you struggle, and we have had the last couple and you just keep preaching, just keep your head up, keep learning, keep getting better and you know that the dividends are going to end up paying off at the end, and boy, they sure have," Mick said.
Still, the returning Railers have improved their 3-point shooting. Freshman Alexcia Deutscher and Hensley lead the team. The strong supporting cast includes junior Kaleigh Soneson, sophomores Stephanie Greenway and Sarah Mick and senior Megan Honas.
"I am not surprised," Smith Center coach Nick Linn said. "When preseason stuff came out, I picked them No. 1, and I really believe that they have the nucleus to do well."
Deutscher has scored in double figures in every contest and has averaged 16.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.8 steals a game.
"She is just amazing," Hensley said. "I am so lucky to have her on our team this year. I wish I could play with her four more years. We just all worked together so well, and it's awesome."
She delivered 20 points against Smith Center. Like she has done all season, Deutscher often grabbed a defensive rebound and immediately took off down the floor. Mick said Deutscher just "goes a 100 miles an hour the whole time."
"You start with that Deutscher girl on the inside," Linn said. "You've got to somehow stop her, and then you've got to keep Hensley from penetrating and not turn the ball over to allow them easy baskets. That's how you've got to do it. We didn't do it."
Hensley, who tallied a career-high 28 Saturday, averages 12.3 points, 3.5 assists and 3.2 steals.
"She has been around in big games also, and she is their floor general," Linn said.
Ellis is 45 of 154 on 3-point attempts, a significant increase from last season.
"Most games, she is in double figures rebounding, too," Coach Mick said of Deutscher. "I guess that was a little surprising for me. You know, the other thing that has been a pleasant surprise is that we have made outside shots this year. We struggled last year. We didn't make a 3 until the tenth or 11th game of the season last year, and we only made 22 all year."