Sophomore wing Lainey Day is averaging 10.5 points through four games at Nelson after transferring from Damascus Christian.
Sophomore wing Lainey Day is averaging 10.5 points through four games at Nelson after transferring from Damascus Christian.

HAPPY VALLEY – Nelson's girls basketball team only has to look a few miles up the road – at reigning 6A champion and top-ranked Clackamas – to see a model of a state powerhouse.

It's a lofty standard that inspires the promising young Hawks, who believe they have the potential to play with the best in 6A.

“I know all the girls on Clackamas, and they work their tails off, and it's really cool to watch them strive as a team,” Nelson sophomore Lainey Day said. “Maybe we don't have the skill, but we can be up there.”

The unranked Hawks added to their early-season success Friday night with a 62-26 home win over No. 9 Cleveland. Day, a 6-foot wing, scored 17 points and Love Forde, a 6-1 freshman post, added 16 points as Nelson improved to 4-0.

Coming off last season, when they finished 15-9 and made their first 6A playoff appearance, the Hawks picked up a wave of young talent. And it brought higher expectations, not only from the outside, but from themselves.

“We want to be playing on the last day at the Chiles Center for a trophy,” coach John Schlaefli said. “We're realistic about how young we are, but we don't want to put a ceiling on what we're capable of. These girls have a lot of confidence and they really believe in themselves. So we want to shoot for the moon.”

The Hawks know that the process of becoming a state contender will require patience.

“We have to keep ourselves level-headed and humble,” Forde said. “We need to be honest with where we're at, instead of just having this expectation. We've actually got to work to get where we want to be, instead of just saying it.”

Nelson has cruised past the competition so far, beating Lakeridge 52-34, Caldera 82-27 and Lake Oswego 43-29 before handling Cleveland (2-2), the Hawks' first ranked opponent.

“These four games, we just came out super connected,” Day said.

Day transferred from nearby Damascus Christian, where she made the 1A first team in leading the Eagles to a state championship last season. So far, she is averaging 10.5 points and showing her versatility by racking up rebounds, assists and steals.

“She really does a lot,” Schlaefli said of Day. “First time I saw her in an open gym, I was like, 'This is an incredible athlete.' But she's got a lot of savvy and a lot of poise, too. She's got a pretty high ceiling.”

Day, the daughter of former Damascus Christian coach Robert Day, has made a seamless transition from 1A to 6A.

“I was actually really nervous coming in,” Day said. “Going from 1A to 6A, it's a big jump. But I feel free, actually. … Coming here, it was nice to have a fresh start. I knew some of the girls coming in, and having a role as a leader on this team is just like something I was called to do. It was a great move. I'm really happy I was able to come.”

And what about facing the higher competition?

“It's so much fun,” Day said. “When you play like this, you never want to stop, you never want to come out of the game.”

The powerful Forde is a force inside, averaging a team-high 13.3 points per game. On offense, she clears out space in the paint and scores with a soft touch. On defense, she patrols the interior and swallows up rebounds.

Nelson is learning how to take advantage of Forde, who scored 10 points in the second half Friday as the Hawks pulled away. All five of her second-half baskets came off assists – three by Day and one each from senior guards Ella Shackleton and Jaisa Juliano.

“I always preach that she has to get touches, even if she's not shooting it, because she's such a force down there,” Schlaefli said of Forde. “They're looking for her more. They're starting to realize, even if she's drawing double- and triple-teams, it opens up the game for everybody else.”

Nelson also has 5-10 freshman wing Nylah Webster, the daughter of former NBA player Martell Webster. She scored 13 points against Lakeridge and 12 against Caldera.

In Friday's game, the Hawks led 29-21 early in the third quarter before outscoring Cleveland 33-5 the rest of the way. Junior guard Sophia Gradwahl and sophomore wing Jasmine Nita added eight points apiece in the win.

Schlaefli liked how his team broke through in the second half.

“One thing about our group, young or old, they play really hard,” he said. “They stuck with it, and once they figured out what Cleveland was trying to do to us, they really made some great adjustments. They kind of took over. I didn't have to say anything.”

It's the kind of growth the Hawks will need if they expect to mix it up with 6A contenders. They will play quality competition in the POA Holiday Classic during the holiday break and begin Mt. Hood Conference play next month, including a Jan. 12 home date against Clackamas.

“Once we get to that game, I think it'll be a heat check to see where we're at,” Forde said.