After being riddled with adversity and injuries last season, Yelm High School’s girls basketball team is determined to get back on track during the 2023-24 campaign. While the Tornados totaled two wins last year, Yelm is hungry to get on the court and has high expectations for the season.
Yelm’s head coach Jennifer Sleeman said she and her team talked about playing with determination and grit this upcoming season. She added the team is “a couple girls” deep at each position, whereas the year prior the Tornados had limited depth.
“Last year, we had a lot of different things happen that were out of our control. Now we’re healthy, we’re together, and we’re determined to be better,” Sleeman said. “We all want each other to exceed and excel. This year we also have the numbers so we can have more of a team approach. The girls are determined to win games. We’re determined to go deep into districts, and we’re determined to exceed what everyone’s expectations are. I think these girls are hungry for a little respect.”
The team opened its season Tuesday at Centralia High School against the Tigers, but results were not available before publication. Yelm’s home and South Sound Conference (SSC) opener is set for Wednesday, Dec. 6 against the Gig Harbor Tides, who Sleeman described as always being a solid group. Two days later, on Friday, Dec. 8, the Tornados will hit the road for another SSC matchup against the Timberline Blazers at Timberline High School.
Seniors guards Lilli Williams and Maria Casihan each missed last season with injuries and are expected to contribute to the team throughout this upcoming season. After facing injury-related adversity, both athletes said they’re thankful to return to the court.
“It feels so good to be back out here,” Williams said. “I feel so confident about being able to play again, especially with my teammates. The injury taught me how to handle adversity. Before you get injured, you usually have a routine. Then it’s taken away from it. An injury can test you, but it makes you mentally stronger.”
Casihan, who missed her sophomore and junior year because of injuries, said she’s excited to share the court with her teammates once again.
“It was really hard on my mind, and it took a lot to get here,” Casihan said. “I’m really excited to play this season, and I know Lilli is, too. It was a really tough experience for me.”
Like their head coach, both athletes have high expectations for this upcoming season.
“I want to make it to the playoffs,” Williams said. “Don’t doubt us. Girls basketball in Yelm has been doubted in the past, but watch out for us this year. I think chemistry is a really big thing for us this year. We have things to work on while we’re on the court, but chemistry off the court is where it really starts.”
Casihan said the team is already working hard on winning this year.
“I will hold my teammates and myself accountable so we can be successful,” Casihan said. “We’re going to work hard to get to districts and to win some games this year. We’re a different team this year. We’re determined and we’ll be ready to shock some teams.”
Like Williams and Casihan, senior forward Shay-Lah Squally has a goal of reaching the postseason and said the team will work on and off the court to obtain those goals. She added the team’s hustle and understanding of on-court situations stands out to her this year.
“We’re trying to make it to districts this year. A big goal is to make it to the (Tacoma) Dome this year,” Squally said. “Being here at practice will be a big part of obtaining this goal. We’re focusing on our determination to the team. We’re grinding in and out of the gym, doing what we can do to make the team better. I hope for a good season. Watch out for us, look out for us.”
Senior post Jayde Connally praised the team’s coaching staff, stating she’s improved as a basketball player because of their coaching. Like her teammates, she’s confident in the team’s ability to improve this season.
“Basketball, like life, requires perseverance, self accountability and mutual respect. These skills that our coaches teach us are to help us players on the court and in our future careers. I’m excited to finish off my last season, as a senior, with some amazing players,” Connally said. “We didn’t get many wins last year, so we’re just focusing on winning this year, together. There’s a lot of skills that you learn through accountability, perseverance and discipline. You need that to win.”
Connally said the team excels at communicating this year, and that in years past they’ve “tended to look horrible on the court” when communication lacked. She added the team discusses what they struggle with and then works to improve those things in-game. Sleeman said she and her team have had different conversations about what needs to happen in 2023 in order to vastly improve from the previous season.
“We talked about not being soft this year and being the aggressor. We’re going to go after people, that’s our plan. Offensively, we’ve got three people that can post double-doubles any game,” Sleeman said. “It’s important to play with confidence. Since last year was an up and down year, we’re trying to use this beginning to get our feet on the ground. Mentally, we’re ready and determined to get after it.”