After relying heavily upon Audrey Wetzel the past two years, the Columbus East girls basketball team likely will be more balanced this season.
Wetzel, the school’s third all-time-leading scorer, has moved on to St. Francis. But the Olympians return three starters and their sixth man from a team that posted a 14-11 record, its best in four years.
“It could be a different leading scorer every night,” East coach Danny Brown said. “I think Brittany (Ballard) is capable of putting up some big numbers, as are Addy (Galarno) and Kristen (Lyons) and Claire (Cunningham). The ball seems to be moving a lot better this year. They really share the basketball and look for each other. These girls have been playing together a long time.”
Galarno, a 5-foot-9 junior, averaged 10.2 points a game last season, while Ballard, a 5-11 junior point guard, added 10.0 points and 2.3 assists. Both earned honorable mention All-Hoosier Hills Conference honors.
The Olympians have height in 6-2 junior returning starter Kristen Lyons and 6-1 sophomore Claire Cunningham, who was the first player off the bench last season. Karli Reynolds, a 5-7 senior who was limited to junior varsity action after transferring from Columbus North last year, will fill the other starting spot.
“We feel like we have the experience, and now, if we can just develop another player off the bench, we feel like it’s going to be a pretty big year for us,” Brown said.
Korin Humes, a 5-9 senior, saw significant action last season and will provide depth inside. Also returning are 5-9 sophomore Sarah Park, 5-8 junior Lauren Meade and 5-7 senior Kary Horner.
Three other players — 5-8 freshman Kailtyn Dougherty, 5-2 freshman Whitley Rankin and 5-6 sophomore Calli Duncan — will split time between varsity and JV.
“I think we’re making a lot of progress,” Brown said. “We’re probably working harder defensively than we ever have. We feel if we’re going to take that next step, we’re going to have to be better defensively.”
East’s 2015-16 season was highlighted by a December win against then-undefeated North Harrison, which went on to finish as Class 3A state runner-up. When North Harrison slated to play in this year’s Rumble on the River Tournament at Southwestern (Hanover), the Olympians dropped the Cats in favor of Batesville.
East, which scrimmages at Jennings County tonight, opens the regular season Thursday at HHC rival Floyd Central. Brown sees this year’s conference race being as wide open as it has been for awhile.
“Bedford has the (Jorie) Allen girl, who is pretty tough,” Brown said. “Jeffersonville is good. New Albany is good. It’s going to be a battle. Who’s going to hold home court is going to be key.”
The Olympians play in one of the state’s toughest Class 4A sectionals, featuring 2015 state champion and 2016 state runner-up Columbus North and Bloomington South.
“It’s always going to be a battle with North,” Brown said. “Bloomington South plays good defense. Shelbyville is going to be a little better, and East Central, Kevin Moore does a good job over there. We’ll see how we progress during the season.”
The 2016-17 Columbus East girls basketball schedule:
Thursday;at Floyd Central;7:30 p.m.
Nov. 15;at Heritage Christian;7:30 p.m.
Nov. 17;East Central;7:30 p.m.
Nov. 22;Brownstown Central;7:30 p.m.
Nov. 26;Franklin Central;2 p.m.
Nov. 29;Bloomington North;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 7;at Silver Creek;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 10;at Jeffersonville;2 p.m.
Dec. 15;Columbus North;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 20;Batesville;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 29;at Southwestern (Hanover) tourney;10:50 a.m.
Dec. 30;at Southwestern (Hanover) tourney;TBA
Dec. 31;at Bloomington South;3 p.m.
Jan. 5;Seymour;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 6;at Connersville;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 10;Bedford North Lawrence;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 12;at Greensburg;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 14;at New Albany;2 p.m.
Jan. 19;Jennings County;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 21;Madison;2 p.m.
Jan. 24;at Southport;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 26;Martinsville;7:30 p.m.