Helpenstill a ‘rock’ for the Harding Academy Lady Wildcats

by Levi Gilbert

The Harding Lady Wildcats have been spoiled for three seasons by having Eva Elaine Helpenstill, and Coach Rusty Garner knows it.

“Elaine brings a calming, reliable presence for our team,” Garner said. “She also has a high skill level and is a very crafty scorer. Every coach and team should be lucky enough to have a player and teammate like Elaine.”

Helpenstill, a senior forward for Harding Academy, was selected to this year’s 501 Basketball Team — 37 players representing the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the court. The team is sponsored by Conway Ortho and Sports Medicine, Conway Regional Health System and First Security Bank. Helpenstill was nominated by Garner.

Helpenstill has led the Lady Wildcats (10-9, 6-4 2-3A) in scoring and rebounding the last two seasons, and is well on her way to a third.

Having played basketball for as long as she can remember, the senior says she stuck with the sport because of her family.

“It was something my father and I were able to really bond over, especially when he became my coach for a few years,” Helpenstill said. “I have a brother who is four years older than me, so there was always an unspoken competition between us on who was going to be the best at their sport. He pushed me and encouraged me by helping me realize that my best can always be better, and there is always room to grow.”

With just a few weeks left in conference play, the Lady Wildcats are starting to click at the right time as the postseason looms.

“There are some really tough teams in our league that need to be taken seriously, but I have full confidence in us and what we are capable of accomplishing this year,” she said. “We just need to keep a determined mindset and stay focused on being the team we have the full potential of becoming.

“I really just wanted to dedicate my last year of high school basketball to being intentional when it comes to my relationships with my teammates and my coaches. Team chemistry is something that is essential for having a great team, and I think that is one of our team’s strong suits. I knew this year would go by fast, so I wanted to make sure I soaked in every moment. I want to make sure my team knows they are my family, and I think that will do more good for the team than any stat would.”

While there’s no stat to measure team chemistry, Helpenstill’s relational skills don’t go unnoticed. 

“She is as genuinely selfless as any coach could ask a player to be,” Garner said. “She is loved by her teammates, her coaches, her classmates and her school. Elaine is one of the finest young women I have ever had the pleasure to coach. She has an unassuming disposition, is a constant encourager to her teammates and gives joy and energy to her team.”

In addition to basketball, Helpenstill participates in track (throwing the shot put and discus). Outside of athletics, she’s involved in Youth Advisory Council (an organization that fundraises for non-profits), student council, art club and choir. She attends College Church of Christ in Searcy. After graduation, she plans to attend Harding University and major in social work. 

“Elaine represents her faith, her family and her team in the positive way she always has,” Garner said. “She does plenty of good basketball things for us as far as points and rebounds and such, but she is the rock for our team, and she always has been.”

Helpenstill and the Lady Wildcats play host to Mountain View at 6 p.m. Thursday.