It may not have been the senior season she was hoping for, but Elayna Spilker got a happy ending anyway.
The senior signed a letter of intent last week to play basketball at Butler Community College, one of the top programs in the Jayhawk conference.
After a hot start to the season, Spilker was sidelined in January with a foot injury that kept her out five weeks. Butler, who showed interest in December, got to see what kind of player she can be when healthy. Spilker committed orally during the season, but made it official in front of friends and family last week.
“It’s a big decision, but I’m really happy with it,” Spilker said. “It’s like it’s meant to be, because they came and talked to me before my injury. I’m really excited and I have so much support from my friends and family.”
Spilker said she was up in the air about whether to play basketball in college, but Butler’s interest helped make the decision for her.
“I didn’t realize I was up there, in terms of skill level and all that stuff,” she said. “Their interest kind of sparked me to want to go play basketball, basically, because I didn’t really have any plans to go play.
“As soon as I knew they were interested, I started second-guessing other schools, because they’re such a good program.”
While Spilker was able to come back for Manhattan’s final three games of the year, she wasn’t quite 100 percent to end the season. She will have to learn to play with the pain that stems from her plantar fasciitis. The injury will never completely heal, and will require constant therapy to reduce pain.
“It’s not going to be healed ever, all the way,” she said. “But I just keep taping it, and I’ll have to keep doing rehab or therapy or whatever you want to call it.”
Manhattan High girls’ basketball coach Scott Mall said Spilker’s marked improvement throughout her time as an Indian has made her into a college player.
“Elayna has really reaped the benefits of her hard work, as she improved her skills each year, from freshman through senior,” Mall said. “She made herself into a key threat on offense and a factor on defense.”
While her playing time was limited, she averaged 11.5 points a game as a senior, while shooting 46 percent from the field, 47 percent from 3 and 73 percent from the charity stripe. What made her most dangerous, was her ability to get past defenders and create in the lane.
“Elayna’s ability to drive and finish, or to draw fouls and score at the free-throw line, with the addition of her ability to hit the outside shot made her very difficult for other teams to guard,” Mall said. “In addition, her leadership, whether on the court, daily in practice and continuing even when she was out with an injury, was a key to the success of this past season.”
Spilker joins a team on the rise in Butler. In the last five seasons, the Grizzlies have improved and now regularly compete for conference titles and the elusive single berth for the Jayhawk Conference tournament champion to the NJCAA national tournament in Salina. This past season, Butler lost to conference champion Hutchinson, which went on to take third at the national tournament, by just one point in regionals.
Mall said Spilker should fit right in down in El Dorado.
“It is a great fit and great opportunity for Elayna,” he said, “and one that she has earned through her hard work and focus.”