SILVERDALE — It’s been a long journey since opening day when a Central Kitsap team with little varsity experience among its players squared off against defending Olympic League champion North Kitsap.
Since then, the Cougars have progressed slowly, but surely. The starting lineup often features two or three underclassmen with the task of guiding the offense led by seniors Vanessa Davies and Olivia Krog.
Positive results have followed. Central Kitsap racked up two big wins at the end of December against North Mason and in-district rival Olympic, and the team has also played close games with league foes North Thurston and Capital.
“They’re getting a little more experience, they’re getting more confident,” Central Kitsap head coach Keri Collett said. “The leaders are starting to be more confident in their roles as well, that helps a lot.”
The Cougars (0-7, 3-10) took the floor on Jan. 9 against Yelm in search of their first South Sound Conference win of the season, but a dominant third-quarter performance on the part of the Tornadoes proved to be the difference in a 58-49 loss.
Central Kitsap trailed by just four at halftime, but Yelm had runs of six and nine points sandwiched around two field goals by Davies. The Tornadoes offense was running efficiently, getting Imani Tustison, Jaeden Ells and Haylee Sleeman open for consecutive baskets to start the quarter. After a mid-range jumper and a 3-pointer from the left wing by Davies, the Yelm offense went back to work scoring three more baskets. Yelm closed the quarter with a pair of free throws by sophomore Maddie Plevyak — who finished with a game-high 21 — and a 15-point lead.
Prior to that, the Cougars had matched Yelm’s stellar shooting. In the first quarter, Krog dished off to freshman Pono Fuiava for their team’s first points of the game and then scored back-to-back baskets to give Central Kitsap a 6-3 lead. Krog finished the game with a double-double, picking up 13 rebounds to go along with 15 points and four assists.
The Cougars continued to battle into the fourth quarter. Krog sank two 3-pointers in the early going, and after another triple from sophomore Jai-Lynn Taylor, Central Kitsap was back within five. But Plevyak answered with a big three from the wing that pushed the lead back to eight.
But the nine-point loss still represents a step forward. The first time these two teams met, the Tornadoes dropped 82 points on the Cougars, the most they have given up this season. While they still struggled to guard Yelm’s cutters, the defense has averaged 52 points against in the past five games, representing a six-point improvement from the team’s first seven games.
“That’s something I try to talk about with them — as long as you play defense well, often times, the offense will come around eventually,” Collett said.
While it doesn’t get any easier from here — the Cougars still have games left against Timberline, Gig Harbor and Peninsula, the top three teams in the South Sound Conference — Central Kitsap will keep grinding to the end as its young players gain valuable experience for future seasons.
“They all want to win, and they all play hard,” the coach said.
Yelm 58, Central Kitsap 49
Yelm 14 19 14 11 — 58
CK 14 15 5 15 — 49
Yelm (58) — Plevyak 21, Sleeman 11, Ells 6, Jones 6, Tustison 6, Cebula 5, Jewell 3.
CK (49) — Krog 15, Davies 12, Taylor 7, Sousou 6, Lanki-Namoto 5, Fuiava 4.
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at email@example.com.