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By A.J. JANKOWSKI
Daily News Sports Editor
It’s not often the most enticing facet of basketball to a team’s leading scorer is a defensive scheme.
That didn’t stop Jayley Taylor from emphatically stating what’s got her excited heading into her junior season.
"Our press,"?she said.
Not driving to the rim. Not stepping back and nailing a 3-pointer. Not getting the green light from her coach and dropping 30 points.
Taylor can’t wait to run the full-court press.
"It's really fun,"?she continued. "It picks up the tempo of the game, and we're able to keep a faster pace. I think we can run a few teams out of the gym."
Thus is life on the Ketchikan High School girls basketball team, where offense and defense flow freely in head coach Kelly Smith’s fast-paced system.
"I played the slow-down game, but it's not fun to watch; it's not fun to coach, and it's not fun to play,"?Smith said. "When you play the slow-down game, every mistake is magnified. When we're going and going on both ends of the floor, a mistake doesn't hurt us that much. You turn around and you get right back at it."
For Smith, the weeks leading up to the season opener are spent getting the Lady Kings mentally and physically prepared to push the tempo.
"We turn and we press everything," he said. "We need tough kids that are just trained in their heads to press. For years, everyone was trying to just get back or get to a spot on the floor. We just attack instantly."
Quicker execution means quicker decisions, and according to senior Mikayla Brown-Harrison, communication is key.
"Our talking so far could get better, but we're going to get used to it," the team captain said. "It's definitely a new team, but I think everyone gets along really good off the court. And on the court, we've been playing a lot better than I expected this early on."
Smith said what this year’s squad might lack in experience, it makes up for with mental toughness.
"This year, we've got a bunch of new faces in different spots, but overall, we might be stronger mentally, and physically tougher," said Smith, who added that a majority of the team committed to CrossFit workouts during the offseason to get tougher.
There are five seniors on the Kayhi roster: Brown-Harrison (forward/post), Bayley Lindgren (wing/forward), Cassidy Patton (wing/forward), Faith Clark (wing), and Lizzie Carson, who Smith said dedicated herself in the offseason to being better on the ball.
Carson, along with junior Brooke Simmons and freshman Charley Edwardson, give the Lady Kings a handful of ball handlers to free up space for the team’s offensive leader, Taylor.
"Last year, we had to rely so much on Jayley to get the ball up the floor," Smith said. "If she doesn't have to dribble 60 or 70 feet, we can run her off things, and she'll get more open looks. It makes things a lot easier."
The roster boasts 11 players, including two freshmen in Edwardson, a guard, and post player Eliah Anderson.
"The freshmen, they are athletes," Taylor said. "Charley has ball-handling skills, and Eliah's aggressive and can box out."
The coach’s philosophy on freshmen is that they’ll get playing time if they deserve it. With the way Smith wants to run the floor, he doesn’t have much of a choice.
"With our style and how we play, I should be comfortable with 10 kids," he said.
Kayhi opens the season Friday at home against Charles Hays of Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The Lady Kings then play in the Holland America Tournament in Sitka before taking part in the Clarke Cochrane Christmas Classic.
After the New Year, Kayhi kicks off conference play Jan. 4-5 against Thunder Mountain. Then comes the true barometer Jan. 11-12, when the Lady Kings travel to Juneau to face the Crimson Bears. That’s when Smith knows whether his team is ready for the postseason.
"Win or lose, when we go into Juneau and we give everything we have; when we don't back down regardless of anything that's happening — then I'll know we're close," Smith said.
And it will all start with the press.
"It'll just jump you for 10-20 points in a row," he said. "You won’t know what hit you."