SPORTS: Defending Olympic League girls basketball champions Port Angeles Roughriders ready to battle

PORT ANGELES — Who wants to hit the fast-forward button?

Surely, a few members of the Port Angeles girls basketball team wouldn’t mind doing so.

Senior guards Jessica Madison and Alison Knowles have started for three teams that won at least a share of three Olympic League titles.

And starters Taylyn Jeffers and Kiah Jones have been major contributors for the last two years when the Riders won 31-of-31 league games for a pair of outright crowns.

So the prospect of winning yet another is hardly far-fetched.

The real mystery seems to be whether the Riders can finally get past the same roadblock that has kept it out of state all three years: the district playoffs.

“I think that crosses our mind a lot,” said Madison, the reigning Olympic League MVP and an all-state guard last season in Class 3A.

“But at the same time, we know we have to take each game one by one and just focus on that, and that will get us to the postseason.

“We still have a lot of things to work on.”

Indeed, as Friday night’s narrow 45-40 season opening win over league rival Kingston illustrated, Port Angeles is hardly a finished product.

While the Riders might be returning four starters in Madison, Knowles, Jeffers and Jones, they also have a lot of new pieces that must find their place on the puzzle.

And the size advantage Port Angeles once enjoyed in the past, when they had four or five girls at least 6 feet or taller, no longer exists.

Like just about every other team this time of year, the Riders must find out exactly who they are . . . even if they’re curious to know what they will become.

“Yeah, it is tough, just wanting to go straight to districts and win that crossover game or those kind of games,” said Knowles, an all-league guard who averaged 8.5 points and 4.3 assists per game as a junior.

“But [this is] what counts right now. We’re learning who we are and we’re learning our identity. We’re showing everyone what we can do.

“That’s the biggest part right now, we’re putting our name out there again and saying, ‘We’re back. This isn’t it. Port Angeles is here to play.'”

No doubt, most Olympic League coaches know that already.

The Roughriders have, after all, more than doubled their opponents’ score (65.0-31.5) in league play last season.

Madison routinely torched opposing defenses while averaging 23.3 points per game as the Riders ran teams out of the gym behind strong defensive pressure and a fast-paced transition offense.

Port Angeles head coach Mike Knowles had to come up with game-by-game team goals just to keep the players interested in 40- and 50-point blowouts.

Yet that same killer instinct that led to 14 double-digit victories last year wasn’t there Friday night against a Kingston team missing its best player (Sophia Baetz).

Port Angeles sank just 13-of-59 shots (4-of-23 from 3-point range) and failed to pull away from the Buccaneers until the final minute of the game.

The good news: the Riders did well in the one stat that illustrates hustles the most, out-rebounding a bigger Kingston team 40-28.

“The kids just expect to win when they go on the floor, which you want to have,” Port Angeles head coach Mike Knowles said.

“But they admitted when we talked that they didn’t come prepared to play the game [against Kingston].

“They took the concept that we didn’t play well tonight, well enough to win the league. That’s OK as long as we get better the next game.”

If they do that, maybe the Riders can improve enough to do finally something they haven’t done the past three years: win at districts.

Port Angeles is 0-7 in postseason games during that time, with all of those contests coming against 3A competition.

Now that the Riders have moved down to 2A, one would think their chances of reaching state for the first time since 2004 would be greater.

None of the players are buying it, however.

“I think that we can’t look at it like that,” Madison said. “Just how we dropped down, a lot of other good girls basketball programs dropped down. There’s still a lot of good teams.”

Added Alison Knowles, “I think it’s just a label, really. We’re still proving ourselves.

“We still have the rest of the season to say, ‘Hey, we can beat any caliber team.'”

And there’s no hitting fast forward.

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