For Columbus North, it’s been 24 games of preparation. For Columbus East, 20 games.
All the work of the regular season is put on the line today when the teams begin play in the Indiana High School Athletic Association sectionals.
Although North, which went 19-5 and is the defending sectional champion, might be a slight favorite, the Shelbyville Sectional is wide open. Just consider that East, which finished 16-4, defeated North during the regular season.
North faces tournament host Shelbyville in tonight’s opener at 6 p.m., while East meets East Central following the first game with a tipoff about 7:30 p.m.
A loss now ends a team’s season.
“This has been a great, fun group to coach,” Olympians coach Brent Chitty said. “I think our kids are pleased with the success they had, and I don’t think anyone would have thought they would have had that much success.
“Our guys are able to figure it out. They know we are the underdog in the sectional. But if we play hard, we have a chance.”
The Bull Dogs have stumbled five times, but coach Jason Speer said the heights they accomplished last season, ascending to the state’s No. 1 ranking and winning a sectional, and their continued success this season has made them a target.
“Every team that beat us, (the fans) rushed the court,” Speer said. “But I think with every setback, we’ve learned something from it, whether that was about turnovers or missing free throws or not making plays. You can go down the line of things that have happened to us, and we’ve learned.
“I think our guys learned to identify with their defense and learned to be able to execute a defensive plan.”
Both coaches talked about their players’ contributions and improvement that led North to a Conference Indiana co-championship and East to a second-place finish in the Hoosier Hills Conference.
Speer started with senior starters Evan Henry, a guard, and Elliott Welmer, a forward.
“Evan’s been a very consistent player for us this season, and he scores when he needs to,” Speer said. “For Evan, his ball-handling is an area where he continually has improved.
“Elliott is a self-made player. He is very good when he gets his inside and outside game going together, and he is a very difficult matchup. He has been more willing to go inside this season, and he has become a better rebounder. His defense has been a constant for us.”
Bull Dogs junior power forward Josh Speidel has continued to build off a terrific sophomore season.
“Josh has been a constant double-double guy for us, scoring and rebounding,” Speer said. “He has done a great job protecting the rim, and he has been more consistent this season.”
North junior guard Kooper Glick got off to a slow start due to an ankle injury, but he figures to be a big factor in the sectionals.
“He is our slasher,” Speer said. “And he is our enforcer on defense, a physical player. He is very good going downhill at the rim with the basketball.”
North’s Trent Larson and Christian Glass give the Bull Dogs the kind of depth most teams don’t have.
“On defense, Trent often draws the other team’s best player,” Speer said. “He is really quick, and he anticipates where the screens are coming from, off and on the ball. He also is one of our most efficient offensive players.
“Christian is another self-made player. He gives us great energy off the bench, usually offensively. He always seems to make something happen, and he has become a more consistent 3-point shooter for us.”
For East, everything has started with senior post player Bryce Lienhoop.
“Here’s what I can tell you about him,” Chitty said. “All the number and records live on, but for Bryce, the one thing I’ve noticed is that he is a player who never is satisfied. He wants to win every game. He not only has the ability to produce numbers, but he has the ability to get other people involved offensively. His unselfishness says a lot about him as a player.”
Junior forward Connor Umphress and junior guard Nate Nolting have kept things rolling for East.
“Every team needs to have a true outside shooting threat, and Connor is that guy for us,” Chitty said. “He shoots it extremely well, and he gets it off quick. I think the way he has improved the most this season and that he knows he can’t be one dimensional. He does get to the basket now.
“Nate, the first thing about him, is that he does such a great job guarding people with his strength. Nate is a really strong kid. We always knew he was a good shooter, and he has done that well for us. He also is like having an assistant coach on the floor.”
The Olympians piled up wins despite starting two sophomores, including Chitty’s son, Parker Chitty, at point guard.
“I have been really pleased with Parker’s ability to handle the ball for us,” Brent Chitty said. “He sets the table for us, and that’s a lot to put on any sophomore’s plate. Defensively, he has made some great contributions to get us going in games. I think he has improved the most on his confidence to play at this level.”
East sophomore forward Kevin Williams might have been a bit timid starting out this season, but he has grown.
“I am proudest about his ability to guard players on both the inside and the perimeter,” Brent Chitty said. “Many times we have asked him to guard a guard, and then we turn around and have him guard someone where he is giving away three to four inches. But he is a relentless player who has a motor.”