Manhattan High guard Elayna Spilker isn’t afraid of a little contact.
The senior has made a name for herself over the years as a player who likes to drive the lane at any cost. Few things, whether it’s a larger opponent or a hard foul, are likely to deter her. She has the bumps and bruises to prove it.
“I’m on the ground, I’ve got bruises and I’m so sore after some games,” Spilker said. “But when the next game comes, you put those bruises aside and get some more.”
At times, it seems Spilker does more tumbling during a game than a gymnast. Stopping her comes with a price, usually just a foul, but sometimes with a violent collision.
But the senior doesn’t commit many charging fouls. She has the ball-handling ability and the basketball sense to sidestep defenders who are set. Drawing a double-team in the lane typically ends with an assist opportunity. Add in a much-improved 3-point stroke this year, and suddenly Spilker is the most complete player the Indians have and is drawing looks from college coaches.
“As a sophomore, she was mostly just driving to the basket — hard,” said coach Scott Mall. “Last year, she was in more control, and this summer she really got better at finishing when she got to the basket. She’s also worked on her 3-point shot, which really adds, because people want to step off to her and stop the drive, so she can step back and hit the open shots.
“She probably ought to shoot it more — she’s shooting a good percentage.”
Mall said the way Spilker is playing through five games this year makes her a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches. Take away the drive, and she’ll be open for 3s. Guard against the long ball and she’ll drive right past you.
“You have to decide,” he said. “You’re probably going to give up one or the other, and you have to decide what you want to do. She’s made herself that much more dangerous by adding the 3 to her repertoire.”
Last year, Spilker was a factor for Manhattan, but a talented group of seniors kept her from blossoming into the player she is today.
“She’s really stepped up,” Mall said. “Last year she got to be kind of a two-guard type player for us, because we had a point guard handling the ball all the time.”
Spilker said the whole team has had to adjust to playing without the talents of Onyeka Ehie and Mari Jo Massanet, but has given the rest of the team the opportunity to make its mark.
“They were a really big presence with 3-pointers and being big inside,” she said. “Now we’re relying on the whole team to pass and shoot. Everybody has to work together and pass the ball a lot more. Everybody can shoot it, rebound, everything.”
Mall said his senior point guard has embraced all aspects of team leadership, not just on game nights.
“She’s been a real leader, both in practice and all the things that have to be taken care of off the court,” he said. “She’s helped out in practice with girls that are struggling with things, all in addition to working awfully hard on her game between last year and this year, adding a lot of things to it.”
Spilker’s improvement has been easy to spot. She’s averaging more than 13 points per game while making more than 50 percent of her shots from the floor and 66 percent from 3. The real strength of her game comes from converting most of the free throws that she earns driving hard to the basket. She is 26 of 35 on the year, with no other teammate even attempting 20.
“I work on that a lot,” Spilker said of her free throws. “I think that’s one of my confident points, because I block everything out and it’s a sure thing — no one can foul me while I’m on the free-throw line.”
As far as goals go, the senior is hoping to lead this team to many of the milestones achieved by last year’s talented team, though she knows it won’t be easy.
“We want to go undefeated in Centennial League, which is going to be hard, because Hayden just beat Washburn, and they’re both going to be good competition,” she said. “But I think we can push ourselves to do that. I’d really like to win sub-state and make it to state again this year and do better than last year.
“I’m sure a lot of people don’t think that’s going to happen without MJ and Onie, but I think this team has a lot of chemistry.”
As far as the opportunity to play basketball after high school, Spilker said she’s not sure what she wants to do, but isn’t ruling anything out just yet.
“It’s a possibility,” she said. “I’m not dead-set on playing college ball, but it’s definitely on my mind.”