INDIANAPOLIS — When Columbus North faces Penn in Saturday night’s Class 4A girls basketball state final, the Bull Dogs will be seeing a different Kingsmen team than they one they saw in December.
Penn point guard Kaitlyn Marenyi missed 13 games, beginning with the Columbus North Invitational, because of a stress reaction to swollen tissue around the bone area in her foot. She returned in the regional and has helped the Kingsmen reach the state title game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“There’s no question when Katie is out there on the floor, she brings another dynamic to our team, being our point guard, being able to manage the game,” Penn coach Kristi Ulrich said. “Just her athleticism and length, that obviously makes a difference too, especially from the defensive end of the floor.”
Marenyi, a 5-foot-8 senior, averages 9.8 points and 3.6 assists and is one of two Kingsmen who were starters two years ago when they lost to Bedford North Lawrence in the state title game in Terre Haute. The other is 6-1 senior Camryn Buhr, who leads this year’s team with 19.4 points and 7.2 rebounds a game.
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Claire Carlton, a 5-10 senior, and 5-6 senior Kamra Solomon also played significant minutes for Penn as sophomores.
“This group is extremely driven, being senior-led, and we’re extremely excited to be able to be together to have another week of practice,” Ulrich said. “But we’re just not excited to be here. We wanted to be able to go out Saturday and compete to the best of our ability.”
Buhr (Lehigh), Marenyi (American), Claire Carlton (University of Indianapolis) and 6-4 senior Lindsay Chrise (Tennessee-Martin) have plans to play college basketball. Solomon will play soccer at Furman.
Last year, the Kingsmen went 22-5 and lost to Lake Central in the regional semifinals.
“Once the season was over, and it was time to get back on the horse and start going again, they worked extremely hard in the offseason to get ourselves prepared for a potential deep tournament run,” Ulrich said.
Meanwhile, the Bull Dogs are back in the state finals after winning their first state title a year ago. They lost Miss Basketball and McDonald’s All-American Ali Patberg from that team, as well as defensive stopper Debie Gedeon and three other seniors.
But North has seen major improvement from returning starters Maliah Howard-Bass, Paige Littrell and Elle Williams, along with Imani Guy and Emily Kim, who have moved into starting roles.
“If they’re all exactly the same as they were last year, we don’t get here,” North coach Pat McKee said. “But they all have gotten better individually and together. We’ve given them some direction and encouragement, but they have to go do it, whether it’s developing skills on their own or working together in the team environment.”
McKee said he realized this year’s team had a chance to get back to state after watching it go 8-0 the last week of June in a tournament at Gibson Southern.
In that tourney, the Bull Dogs posted wins against quality teams shuch as Gibson Southern, Evansville Central, Castle, Vincennes Rivet and Vincennes Lincoln.
“It’s not only that we won; it’s how we played,” McKee said. “I thought we played so well.”
North, which was heavily guard-oriented with Patberg at the point the past four years, became a two-post offense this season with Williams and Guy. Ashlyn Huffman moved in from Franklin Central and ran the point until tearing her meniscus midway through the regional final against Evansville Central.
McKee said the key for Saturday’s game for the Bull Dogs is to handle the ball, defend, box out and rebound and push the ball every chance they get without going too fast.
“As excited as they are, they understand there’s business at hand,” McKee said. “They will try to enjoy the week, but at the same time, they want to win. I think our quality is good. I just hope we play well, and if we do, we can live with the result.”
Columbus North 67, Penn 52
Penn: Sara Doi 0 0-0 0, Tia Chambers 1 2-2 4, Claire Carlton 5 0-0 13, Camryn Buhr 5 10-10 20, Lindsay Chrise 0 0-0 0, Lindsy Kline 3 6-8 12, Kamra Solomon 1 1-2 3. Totals: 15 19-22 52.
Columbus North: Emily Kim 0 0-0 0, Ashlyn Huffman 1 5-6 7, Imani Guy 3 4-7 10, Kat Norman 3 0-0 6, Elle Williams 2 1-1 5, Maliah Howard-Bass 7 2-2 20, Paige Littrell 6 3-4 19, Nadia Lomax 0 0-0 0. Totals: 22 15-20 67.
3-point goals: Penn 3 (Carlton 3); Columbus North 8 (Howard-Bass 4, Littrell 4).