Columbus East girls basketball coach Danny Brown had some interesting news for his seniors as they headed into the just-concluded season.
Brown was going to work six freshmen into the varsity lineup in a move that might not have been popular with players heading into their final season.
It could have driven a wedge between the experienced and inexperience players on the team.
That didn’t happen.
After battling through some rough spots through most of the season, the Olympians won four of their final five games, posted a 13-12 overall record and earned the right to play for a sectional championship against state power Columbus North.
“We knew from the summer that we would play possibly as many as six freshmen,” Brown said. “You have to give credit to the seniors for accepting them and being the leaders that they were. They could have decided not to do that, but they did.”
Brown said one of the keys was having senior Brooke Ballard’s younger sister, Britney, as one of the six freshmen. That gave the older players a connection with the younger group.
Even if they didn’t have that connection, things probably would have gone well anyway. Brown had a hardworking senior class that included forward Megan Galle, who averaged 9.5 points a game.
“Megan has a spirit about her that she brings all the time and that is contagious,” Brown said. “She plays with a lot of energy.
“But she also became a better passer this season and a better defender. She always had been a threat from the outside, but both her and (senior) Abigail Wilson started driving more this season. We knew they could shoot the 3, but they played that slashing style more.”
Wilson (8.4 points a game) had zero free throws a year ago even though she played substantial minutes. That changed.
“Abigail improved more than anybody in the program,” Brown said. “Coach (Willie) Humes took her under his wing and got her driving to the basket. She had just wanted to shoot the 3, but she learned to take what the defense gives you.”
Brooke Ballard was East’s point guard.
“We had been missing that point guard,” Brown said. “Then the past two years, Brooke provided that for us. She was such an unselfish player. She could have scored more if we needed her to, but for us she was more of a facilitator.
“She was a good defensive player and someone we needed in there all the time. There weren’t too many minutes that she wasn’t on the floor.”
East’s final senior was guard Lyric Jackson.
“She earned enough credits to graduate early,” Brown said. “That’s how hard she works on and off the court.
“She provided a huge spark for us off the bench against Bloomington South (in the sectionals).”
With the freshmen gaining experience as the season progressed, and the upperclassmen improving, East was a different team by the postseason playoffs.
A good indication was East’s 49-48 overtime victory against Bloomington South in the sectional semifinals. The Panthers had beaten the Olympians 71-60 on Jan. 27.
Brown said his team started to make a major move Jan. 24 with a 50-38 win against Madison. Then came a tough loss against Bloomington South and a clunker on Jan. 29 against Martinsville. East then fired off three consecutive road victories before winning the rematch against Bloomington South in the tournament.
“With these seniors, I thought something good would happen,” Brown said. “We were too talented, and we worked too hard.
“I think at the end of the season, we moved the ball better. We had gotten stuck not making that extra pass, and we had too much one-on-one. We also got tougher on defense.”
Although East will still have a young team next year, it could make a major move. Leading scoring Audrey Wetzel (15.1 points a game) will be back for her senior season as will 6-foot-1 center Gracie Hatton.
With the development of freshmen guards Addy Galarno and Britney Ballard, it appears to be a bright future for the Olympians.
“I’m excited,” Brown said. “We have all these young kids, and who knows who else is coming in?”
He will, however, miss the makeup of his team that just finished its season.
“I told the team, and I just don’t throw this stuff around, that it has been one of the most, if not the most, fun teams I’ve coached. I’ve just loved being around them because they are special kids. Those seniors made it special.
“I wish we had practice Monday, but we didn’t get there. I’ve had a blast.”
Columbus East girls basketball
OVERALL RECORD: 13-12
HOOSIER HILLS: 2-4
TOUGHEST LOSS: 66-63 to Seymour in OT (Jan. 8)
BEST WIN: 49-48 over Bloomington South in Sectional (Feb. 13)
LEADING SCORER: Audrey Wetzel 15.1 points per game