Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WHEELERSBURG — There’s been a change in guard — literally — inside Wheelersburg’s girls basketball program, and it’s been extremely evident all season.
Last year, when the Pirates lost to Berlin Hiland in a Division III regional final, they lost more than a chance to play for a state championship … they were forced to say goodbye to veteran guard Abbie Kallner, and their principal source of leadership.
However, another Kallner has stepped into that leadership role in Abbie’s sister Ellie, who has led the team to a 22-2 overall record this winter and a 16-0 mark in the SOC II.
That transition may not have been necessarily planned, but it was certainly in destiny’s cards.
Ellie embodies a younger version of Abbie, possessing the ability to rally her teammates, provide a stable model of how things should be done, and display leadership tendencies in everything she does.
“I just feel like every team needs someone that’s vocal and someone who kind of pulls everything together,” Kallner said. “Kaylee [Darnell] and Alaina [Keeney] are great scorers. Abbie did such a great job last year of finding her shot, but if someone got hot, she kind of let them take over that scoring role. I feel like I wanted to step into [Abbie’s] role because I know those two can score and that if I need to, I can put the ball in the net. Abbie is a great leader and I look up to her in many aspects. That’s one of those aspects I wanted to take over.”
While she molds her game in resemblance to her sister’s, she also has a family bond sitting on her bench at all times.
Ellie’s father Aaron is one of the Pirates’ assistant coaches, under head coach Dusty Spradlin.
When things seem tougher than they are, he knows just what to say in order to cool Ellie down. That, in itself, is invaluable to the do-it-all point guard.
“I love playing for my dad. [Dusty] Spradlin and [Tom] Kaskey do a great job of telling me what I need to hear about basketball. But my dad can sit me down and help mentally,” Kallner said. “He’ll say, ‘Ellie, it’s in your head,’ or ‘Ellie, you’re OK.’ He just settles me down. He’s a little bit harder on me than the other girls. I get a bit extra. But it’s just awesome having my dad there.”
It’s awesome for the Pirates to have Ellie at the forefront of their offense.
She has the ability to knock down the 3-ball, she’s a threat to drive to the rim at any time and she can pull up from mid-range.
But all of that takes a backseat when she has the chance to find an open teammate for a score.
“I didn’t score as much last year but I always looked for assists,” Kallner said. “My goal for this season was beating how many assists I had last year. That’s something personal for me, where I want to feed the ball to my teammates. I feel like, as a point guard, that’s my job.”
She’s done just that.
Recently, in a win over Waverly, Ellie passed the 100-assist mark this season — the first time she’s done so in her career.
“If I can do anything for my team, it’d be to give myself up for them,” Kallner said. “Anything I can do for the team, that’s what I’ll do. If it’s leading the team in assists, then I’ll do it. If I score zero points and we win, I’m fine with that.”
That perfectly embodies the type of unselfish player she is.
Currently, Ellie and her teammates are matched up with North Adams in a Division III district semifinal. That game’s tip is scheduled for noon, Saturday at Waverly’s Downtown Gym.
Last season, of course, the Pirates made it all the way to a regional final … a run that will forever be remembered in Wheelersburg folklore.
This year, the Pirates are looking for more of the same magic, but they have to get by North Adams first. No matter the opponent, the recipe for success stays the same.
That all starts with Ellie at the top of the key, providing a stable voice.
“We’ve kept the same energy we had last year and that’s what’s helped a lot,” Kallner said. “We just had this vibe and energy. I feel like we’ve created that again this year. When we get to the bigger games, that’s what we have to focus on … keeping the pace and keeping the energy. Just playing our game is the big thing. If we can do that, we’re so talented. We don’t want to get too high or too low. We just have to stay the course.”