High School Sports

Kamiakin girls grow up on job

KENNEWICK -- One name usually comes to mind when thinking about the Kamiakin girls basketball team: Khadidja Toure.

The junior scoring machine is averaging 21.2 points a game and has helped carry the Braves to an undefeated run through the CBBN 3A conference.

While Toure is the face of the team, a group of inexperienced post players has been the glue.

The Braves had high hopes entering the 2010-11 season. Everyone knew Toure would be good. Everyone also thought the Braves would be relying on 6-foot-3 senior post Kassy Larson.

But Larson has dealt with injuries throughout the season and has only played in four of her team's 13 games. Larson is expected to play for the first time since Dec. 21 when Kamiakin visits West Valley at 5:45 today.

Rather than rely on only Toure with Larson out, coach Tammy Hutchison turned to junior Kaylee Nelson, sophomore Courtney Nelson and freshmen Melanie Oord and Amanda Miller.

"Everyone is focusing on Khadidja, and they don't realize we have other players who can do the job," Hutchison said. "We are becoming a team by utilizing each other."

That has never been more evident than through the play of Courtney Nelson (11.7 points per game, 5.5 rpg).

The wing has a natural knack for scoring, and opposing coaches have noticed. Moses Lake coach Matt Strophy said after an early-season contest he was surprised by Nelson's play. Pasco coach Aaron Barcot thinks she could be one of the best players in the conference by her senior year.

Nelson is taking the accolades in stride, though.

"It's good everyone else has the experience, so everyone else can score," she said. "Now it won't be just the Kassy show, or just the guard game; it'll be the whole team."

While Nelson has picked up the bulk of the scoring slack, Miller leads the team in rebounding at 8.3 per game despite missing two games this season -- she also might miss this weekend's games, as she received a concussion in Monday's win at Davis.

"She's always in the right position to rebound," Hutchison said. "She's very aggressive with rebounding and what she's learning this year, I can't even imagine what she'll be as a senior."

Miller's physical play has helped, along with the 5-5 Oord's (2.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg) underrated rebounding and scrappy play. Add in the play of Kaylee Nelson (6.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg), who along with sister Courtney missed most of last season because of mononucleosis, and it makes for a group of post players excited to learn on the fly and surprise the opposition.

"We've been learning to work together," Kaylee Nelson said. "We've all gotten a lot tougher on offense and defense."

That hasn't gone unnoticed by Larson, who has had to sit on the bench and not play her senior season.

"It helps the team now and in the future," Larson said, "because they are getting a chance to play against girls with (varsity) experience."

The other benefit for the Braves is that Larson doesn't have the pressure of returning and trying to go back to being the team's second-leading scorer as she was last year. She can ease back into her role a little slower, because there are other players ready to help.

"The fact is, it's been a bummer that Kassy has been out," Hutchison said, "but for the long run, it's given these younger girls an opportunity to learn the game and gives us the opportunity to have that whole team concept."

* Craig Craker: 509-582-1509; ccraker@tricityherald.com