Columbus East’s journey to a girls basketball sectional title was four years in the making for a trio of seniors.
Britney Ballard, Addy Galarno and Kristen Lyons are four-year varsity players who have persevered through the ups and downs of the Olympians program. Last week, they led East to its first sectional title in seven years.
“They’ve meant everything to our program,” East coach Danny Brown said. “Those three just willed us to the sectional title.”
The trio have played 103 games together for the Olympians, going 59-44. All were varsity players from Day 1.
Galarno and Lyons started as freshmen, while Ballard came off the bench. Ballard moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore.
“When you have someone around you that long, it’s like with Britney the other night, we could read each other’s mind what we were going to tell each other,” Brown said. “They know the system well and what we need to do to get a win.”
Ballard, a 5-11 point guard, and Galarno, a 5-9 guard, played together at Northside Middle School. Lyons, a 6-2 post, played at St. Bartholomew.
Since they’ve been in high school, they’ve meshed as a unit.
“We know what our strengths and weaknesses are,” Ballard said. “To build that experience over four more years I think helps our team as a whole.”
East went 13-12 their freshmen year and 14-11 their sophomore season. Last year, the Olympians went 15-12.
This season, East is having its best year since Ballard, Galarno and Lyons have been in high school. The Olympians are 17-9 and headed to Saturday’s Columbus North Regional.
“We’ve had a lot of ups, and we’ve also had some downs and some drama and some struggles, but this year, we’re seniors, and we knew that this was our time, and we knew we were going to pull together and we played like a team all year,” Lyons said. “I love playing on the court with these two seniors.”
In winning its first sectional since 2011, East did something else it hadn’t done since then — beat North. The Olympians had lost to the Bull Dogs 11 consecutive times before beating them 39-29 in Friday’s East Central Sectional semifinals.
That avenged a 43-41 loss to North in last year’s sectional final.
“We came really close last year, and it left a sour taste in our mouth, and we didn’t want to come back this year and lose to them again,” Galarno said. “So I think that gave some motivation (Friday).”
Columbus East came back Saturday night with a 34-32 victory against the host Trojans in the sectional final. The Olympians rallied from a seven-point first-half deficit.
Lyons put the final two sectional victories in perspective.
“I think (Friday) night was a little bit more emotional for us just because they’re our archrival, and we lost to them last year in the championship,” Lyons said. “We were a lot more focused (Saturday), and we knew that we were going to come in here and get the job done.”
Ballard, who led East with 14 points in the final and scored the game-winning layup with 12 seconds remaining, thought Saturday’s win was sweeter.
“They’re both great experiences,” Ballard said. “It was really great to beat North. But cutting the nets (Saturday) made it even better.”
Now, the Olympians are focused on Bedford North Lawrence (21-4), their semifinal opponent in Saturday’s regional. The Stars beat East 70-50 on Jan. 9 at Bedford.
But as the Olympians proved in avenging a regular-season loss to the Bull Dogs, they’re a much better team than they were a month or two ago.
“We lost to (Bedford) during the season, but it’s hard to beat a team twice,” Galarno said. “We’re going to get focused in at practice, and work on those little details that we might have messed up on (Saturday).”
Columbus North Regional
10 a.m.: Columbus East (17-9) vs. Bedford North Lawrence (21-4)
Noon: Center Grove (20-6) vs. Castle (23-0)
8 p.m.: Championship