Columbus East wasn’t an easy team to beat last season.
The Olympians went 14-9, but six of the nine losses were by three points or fewer. Following a 1-6 start, they rallied to win 13 of their next 15 before falling to Bloomington South on a last-second shot in the sectional semifinals.
With all five starters returning, excitement is running high for this year’s East squad.
“It’s nice to have some young men with some experience,” third-year coach Brent Chitty said. “It’s fun to work with them because they’ve dedicated so much time, not just during the season but in the offseason. That part is exciting to us.”
The Olympians’ late-season surge included a nine-game winning streak.
“We started executing things a little bit better, and it’s all about execution,” Chitty said. “For us, it’s about doing simple fundamentals to the best of our ability every possession.”
Columbus East Olympians
Last year’s record: 14-9
Coach: Brent Chitty
Key losses: Luke Galle, David Fosbrink
Returning starters: 6-2 senior Zach Martindale (15.7 ppg), 5-10 senior Nate Rich (11.0 ppg), 6-6 junior Bryce Lienhoop (10.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 4.0 apg), 6-3 senior Ridge Harris (9.6 ppg), 5-10 senior Kyle Taylor
(5.6 ppg, 4.0 apg)
Other key returners: 6-2 senior Connor Jensen (2.8 ppg), 6-2 senior Dakota Thompson (1.8 ppg), 6-4 sophomore Connor Umphress (0.9 ppg)
Zach Martindale, a 6-foot-2 senior, emerged as East’s go-to guy last season. He led the team with 15.7 points a game, shooting 61.9 percent from the field.
“He’s more of a slasher,” Chitty said. “He gets a lot of stuff finished around the basket.”
Bryce Lienhoop, a 6-6 junior, is drawing attention from college scouts. He averaged 10.7 points and led the Olympians with 8.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists.
“The guy that I think really sets the table for us a lot is Bryce Lienhoop,” Chitty said. “Bryce does so many things for us stats-wise.”
East also returns 5-10 senior sharpshooter Nate Rich (11.0 ppg), 6-3 senior Ridge Harris (9.6 ppg) and 5-10 senior point guard Kyle Taylor (5.6 ppg, 4.0 apg).
“Nate has a very nice shot,” Chitty said. “Ridge can play inside and out. Kyle is a very good ball-handler.
“We’re doing a better job understanding what our roles are,” he said. “As long as we do that, I think we’re going to have a chance to be successful.”
Connor Jensen, a 6-2 senior, averaged 2.8 points off the bench.
“Conner is just kind of a super sixth man for us,” Chitty said. “He does a great job coming off the bench playing defense, getting rebounds and scoring easy baskets.”
Dakota Thompson (1.8 ppg), a 6-2 senior, and 6-4 sophomore Connor Umphress (0.9 ppg) also saw varsity action last year. Nate Nolting, a 5-10 sophomore point guard, moves up from the junior varsity, and 6-5 senior Jesse Shea is a move-in from Tennessee.
“I think we have some really good depth,” Chitty said. “I’m not afraid to put any of those kids in there. Right now, we’re kind of switching things around, challenging each other in practice to find out who we’re going to put out there.”
The Olympians hope to challenge Jeffersonville and New Albany for the Hoosier Hills Conference title and Columbus North and Bloomington South for the sectional title.
“North has a very talented team,” Chitty said. “They have size. They have guards that can shoot it. They’re playing (the sectional) at home this year, so they’ll be a very, very tough team to beat.”