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East, New Albany boys set to collide in key HHC matchup

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The Columbus East boys basketball team didn’t do a very good job keeping its secret.

These Olympians, who are off to a 4-0 start, are very good.

When East visits New Albany today for a 7:30 p.m. contest, you can bet the Olympians will get the Bulldogs’ best effort.

East coach Brent Chitty acknowledged that his team probably raised a lot of eyebrows with its victory against Class 4A No. 2 Columbus North.

“That’s a fact,” Chitty said. “I know that we take notice of people and respect them. Now, I’m sure people will probably play harder against us.

“We lost seven seniors (from last season) who were pretty good basketball players. They played a significant role in our success. We talked before the North game that we needed to do a little bit of growing up in the game. I thought we did remarkably well.”

Although the North win was huge because it was a rivalry game, today’s game has higher stakes. Both New Albany and Columbus East are 2-0 in the Hoosier Hills Conference. Both teams already had a lot of incentive for today’s game.

“Our conference is such a very good basketball conference,” Chitty said. “Going to New Albany is tough, tough, tough. I guess in the perfect world, all our games would be at home. But we have to go out and find out things about us, whether that means win, lose or draw. I hope our kids are ready for this challenge.”

While many teams around the state are competing in nonconference games that are somewhat meaningless in the grand scheme of things, the Olympians have to play a key conference game three days after Christmas.

“I think our players had a lot of emotion (coming off the North victory) when we came back to practice,” Chitty said. “But on Monday, it was business as usual. We know that we beat a good team, but the bottom line is that we still have to be who we are, a team that takes care of the basketball and a team that needs to defend even better. We did a lot of good things against North, but we can’t be satisfied. We have to keep that hunger, and keep working hard.”

Chitty said his team is fortunate in that regard because it has five seniors who take getting better very seriously.

“The first thing for our team is that we have great leadership,” Chitty said. “We have Bryce Lienhoop, a senior who is a very good basketball player and who plays hard every second he is on the floor. Then we have four seniors, Jordan Foster, Josh Smith, JT Voelker and Peyton Gray, who come off the bench, but who bring it hard every day in practice. That sets a great atmosphere for our team.

“We saw that senior leadership in the summer in our commitment to the open gym. Our young guys have a model. ‘I am going to be as good as Bryce. I am going to be unselfish. I am going to find the open guy.’ “

While losses often present teachable moments for coaches, Chitty said wins can do the same.

“Absolutely that was a great win for us,” Chitty said of the victory over North. “We were playing against the second-ranked team in the state, and it was a ranking well-deserved. That is a very talented group. What we talk about all the time is that to play hard, you have to practice hard. We practiced extremely hard that week.

“But in learning to compete against the best, you’ve got to practice that way every day. We know we are a work in progress. There are so many things we need to get better at doing.

“Can we take it up a notch? Can we play even harder? We have to stay hungry.”

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