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Girls basketball: Elida learns to become a team

Jan. 5—ELIDA — There's a hidden problem with having a once-in-a-generation talent in high school basketball.

You have to figure out how to replace a once-in-a-generation talent.

Or, in the case of Elida's girls basketball team, everyone can chip in to help.

The Bulldogs picked up their first two wins of the season last week in the Vicki Mauk Holiday Classic by figuring out how to replace Addisyn Freeman, the 2023 Western Buckeye League and The Lima News player of the year. Now Freeman is a freshman at the University of Findlay, where she's played in three games and averages 4.7 points per game.

"That's what we've had this year vs. last year," Elida coach Elise Jenkins said. "We had Addisyn Freeman, and she was kind of always that high scorer. We weren't very balanced. So this year, it's like it could be anybody's night. I think the girls like that."

It took a bit to figure out how to turn the Bulldogs, who lost Thursday night to Ottawa-Glandorf, into a team. When it clicked, it clicked well for the Bulldogs during the tournament on their home court.

Against Van Buren, it meant a balanced dose of Lilly Sifrit, Jojo Knight and Alexis Wards on their way to a seven-point win in the semifinals. Against Lima Senior in the finals, it meant Oliveah Sanders coming off the bench to share the scoring lead with Sifrit, a 5-foot-10 freshman who joined the varsity mix this year.

"I think with losing three of our starters, we struggled a lot," said Ward, a 5-foot-8 senior. "With having the girls we have here, people will step up a lot. They are willing to put in the work to try to replace what we did lose last year."

That's when the game became fun, said Knight, a 5-foot-9 senior who admits she prefers using her long wingspan to be disruptive defensively more than driving for buckets.

"We were like super frustrated at the beginning of the season," Knight said. "Everything's clicking now, and it's actually back to being fun for all of us."

With that shared experience comes trust, too.

"We can trust everyone, and that's nice," Knight said. "Everyone has everyone's backs. We can rely on each other."

That can mean different needs on different days. Sometimes the Bulldogs need Sanders, a 5-foot 4 junior, to pass the ball around. Sometimes they need her to score herself, and she's proven to be a sharpshooter from behind the 3-point arc. She's bounced back between point guard and shooting guard throughout her years in travel basketball, she said.

"I've just got to find my spot on the floor," she said. "If I'm not getting the ball and taking it down, I'm finding somewhere to get open to just shoot. You have to find some way to bring a benefit to your team."

The Bulldogs know they have an uphill climb, starting the year at 2-8, but they're starting to understand who they are as a team and make the most of it.

"We're built on rebounds and fast breaks," Jenkins said. "We're not the most disciplined on half-court sets. We're good at getting the ball and running and just having that one speed, fast."

Reach David Trinko at 567-242-0467 or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.