At 6-foot-2, Kristen Lyons has cast an intimidating presence at the back of Columbus East’s matchup zone defense the past three years.
This year, Lyons has taken on more of an offensive role for the Olympians, while still maintaining a defensive prowess. She’s a big reason why East is off to a 7-1 start going into Thursday’s showdown at Columbus North.
“Definitely, I think this year, I’ve started off a lot more confident,” Lyons said. “My coaches have been trying to get me to shoot outside shots for four years now, and I’ve started listening to them and it’s working. I think that has to do with our guards having faith in me to shoot those shots.”
Two of those guards — Britney Ballard and Addy Galarno — are four-year starters. Lyons also is a four-year starter.
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The Olympians have posted winning seasons each of the past three years and now are off to their best start since the 2011-12 season.
“I think it’s finally coming together after four years of playing with Britney and Addy,” Lyons said. “I think we really just know what we’re doing, and we’re off to a great start. I think this year, we’re not worrying about individual stats, and we’re playing as a team. As long as we win, we don’t really care (about individual stats).”
While Galarno (14.5 ppg) and Ballard (10.0) lead the team in scoring, Lyons is fourth at 8.3 per contest. Lyons has been big on the boards with a team-high 8.4 rebounds a game.
Lyons said head coach Danny Brown and assistant Willie Humes encourage her every game to rebound, and she think that in games when she’s struggling offensively, she turns to the defensive end and tries to do her best.
“I definitely think my height gives me an advantage, but there’s a lot of girls that we play that are a lot bigger than me,” Lyons said. “But I still try to block them out.”
Lyons, who was named MVP after helping lead East to last year’s Rumble on the River Tournament at Southwestern (Hanover) also has been a prolific shot blocker during her career with the Olympians. Her 24 blocks (3.0 per game) are tops on the team.
This year, Lyons has been trying to not swat down on shots in an effort to stay out of foul trouble.
“She keeps people from penetrating in there,” Brown said. “Her defensive presence inside has been a key for us.”
Brown said Lyons has gotten stronger since last season, and he never has to worry about her stamina. The three-sport athlete is a four-year letterwinner in cross-country and so far a three-year letterwinner in track. She was East’s No. 1 cross-country runner in some races her junior year.
But Lyons doesn’t plan to pursue competitive athletics in college. She is going to Purdue to major in pharmacy and likely will play intramural basketball.
Thursday, Lyons will try to help the Olympians snap an 11-game losing streak against the Bull Dogs. East came as close as it has to North during that streak in last year’s sectional final, when the Bull Dogs held off a late Olympians charge for a 43-41 win.
With all five starters back from that team, East has started the season strong.
“I think this year, since we started off really well, it will be a good game,” Lyons said. “It’s always a good game because it’s our crosstown rival, and we’re just looking forward to it. We’re just trying to keep winning games and play the best basketball we can.”
What: Columbus North vs. Columbus East girls basketball
When: Thursday (6 p.m. junior varsity and freshman, 7:30 p.m. varsity)
Where: Columbus North High School main gym (JV and varsity) and auxiliary gym (freshman)
Name: Kristen Lyons
School: Columbus East
Sports: Basketball, cross-country, track
Basketball stats: 8.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 3.0 bpg