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Holladay Journal

Skyline girls basketball look to overcome adversity

Feb 03, 2022 03:17PM ● By Daniel Olsen

Lauren Johnson shoots a 3-pointer during a home game against East. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Daniel Olsen | [email protected]

While the Skyline Eagles girls basketball team had to postpone games with Highland and Murray, they remain hopeful about the remainder of their season. COVID protocols may have kept them out, but they are back in action. They beat a tough East High team 59-52 in their first game back and look to do more damage down the stretch.

“Half the team was out,” head coach Samuel White said. “We have 30 girls total in our program and 12 to 13 were out. We had three to four at each level from freshman all the way up to the varsity team.”

One might expect this time to be physically and mentally draining. However, the team remains in good spirits.

“The girls are hungry,” White said. “They want to play. They are ticked off because they wanted to play a week sooner. Highland is always a great game. They wanted to play Murray as well. Our issue is not motivation but shaking off rust. We do the drills needed to be mentally and physically in shape. We are hungry to get back.”

The top performers on the team are Tina Njike, Ayla Williams and Leelu Bare.

“They are super solid and consistent,” White said. “We need everyone to hit on the same night. Erica (Clark) and Leelu are a consistent 10 to 12 points a night. If Lauren Johnson and Abbi Leonard chip in a couple more then that will help.”

Help did come at the latest win over East. Williams and Njike combined for 36 points while Clark and Leonard chipped in seven and six points respectively.

At 8-4, the Eagles hope to compete in region and get to the top eight of the RPI by the end of season. 

“Our goal is to compete for a state and region championship every year,” White said. “We are lucky to have consistency. I thought it would be a rebuilding year. Our expectation is to do well and get one of the top RPI spots. The playoffs are never easy, but getting through the first couple rounds with minimal damage makes it easier down the stretch.”

In a contact sport like basketball, there has been no shortage of injuries for team members. But their main goal is to be healthy by the time the postseason comes around.

“They are a really resilient bunch,” White said. “We had some injuries in the first few weeks of practice. There was a broken finger and a concussion. We have come together. We are a young team but learning quickly because we have to. We have a freshman starting varsity and we can’t have the luxury to make freshman mistakes. We are getting there. We are getting ready for this region stretch as well as the playoffs.”

One junior on the team has exemplified leadership qualities that have benefited her team in enormous ways. Njike is that player and she is ready to help her team get to the next level.

“I like talking during practice and helping everybody out,” Njike said. “If others have questions I’m there for them. When they feel like there is a lot of pressure, I tell them it’s fine. Nobody is perfect in this sport. I make sure that what we are doing is what we are supposed to be doing.”

It isn’t just the leadership qualities that makes Njike a special player off the court. Her hard work has paid off on the court in the games as well.

“My best basketball skill is either rebounding or scoring,” Njike said. “I’m trying to work on defense. I primarily play inside but I am working on extending my range. I’ve made a couple of threes.”

When it comes to basketball players at the next level, Njike learns a lot from players she would like to model her game after. One is a WNBA superstar that plays not far from her home in Utah.

“I like A’ja Wilson who plays for the Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA,” Njike said. “She is really good at inside moves. I would like to be like her in a couple of years. I really admire watching her game.”

It isn’t just the offensive end where Njike thinks she can help the team improve. Defense is definitely something that will help the team get to the next level.

“I can contribute by defense because that can win games,” Njike said. “It can help you win even if you shoot bad. We are talking and getting a lot better. We are playing together as a team which helps more every single game.”

When it comes to a dynamic duo, there is one teammate that Njike has especially been able to connect well with.

“Ayla Williams is a freshman,” Njike said. “Her and I have worked together a lot better. She’s like my duo. She’s a versatile player. Plays defense on everyone. On offense she scores inside.”

Njike has played other sports, but basketball remains her main focus.

“I used to play volleyball, but didn’t like it as much as basketball,” Njike said. “I’m going to do throwing in track but that’s not my main sport. I may do sprints as well. I think trying other sports can help me do better at basketball and life in general.”

It won’t be easy, but this young Eagles team is looking to soar to new heights as they look to their upcoming schedule. They will be a force to be reckoned with in their region and the 5A state playoffs next month.

“Our team at the beginning of the season was a little rough,” Njike said. “We focused on everything we need to be better at. We did lose some valuable players and this year we are extremely young. We are hopeful for the end of the year. We will look at the film and see what you can do better for the next game.”