Columbus East girls basketball coach Danny Brown will find out soon whether a collective strong desire can overcome all the obstacles his team will face in challenging for a championship at tournament time.
At 9-7 overall and 3-3 in the Hoosiers Hills Conference, it would appear the Olympians’ better days will be in the future, and not necessarily the immediate future.
East struggled for most of the season without junior forward Allyson Bunch, who was rehabilitating from a torn ACL. She returned to the lineup Jan. 3 against Seymour, but East didn’t seem in sync with her through four starts.
In her fifth start Saturday in an 66-63 upset, overtime victory against Madison, Bunch led the Olympians with 20 points and eight rebounds. Even so, things aren’t going exactly the way Brown might have scripted the plot.
East suffers from ball-handling problems and an offense that gets stagnant at times. It makes sense, because Bunch is such a big part of the offense when she is in the lineup. Everything has changed now from earlier in the season.
Then consider that Bunch simply isn’t back to full health. She admits she isn’t as quick as she was before the injury, and that affects her first step and her ability to drive with the ball.
While things are a bit ragged to the eye, the Olympians have a strong will to get it done. That might have to be enough.
“We showed the will to win,” Brown said while explaining his team’s victory against Madison despite some of the shortcomings. “We brought everything we had.”
The Olympians might have their faults, but playing hard is not one of them. It is a group that seldom gets rattled and one that will fight to the final buzzer.
“I believe we can do it,” East freshman Audrey Wetzel of winning a championship. “We’ve won some big games now and we are getting on a roll.”
Continuing on a roll, though, will depend upon East’s ability to cut down the turnovers.
“We get a little impatient at times with the ball,” Brown said of his players’ penchant for turnovers. “But we are starting to jell better.”
Bunch agrees with her coach. “We just have to calm down,” she said. “Sometimes it is better to execute than to push the ball. I know we are getting a lot better together.”
After going through an enormous amount of work to get back on the court, Bunch knows a little something about being patient. She understands she has to do the best job possible with the way things are with her left knee.
“Physically, I’m good,” she said. “My knee doesn’t hurt. I would say I am 60 to 65 percent compared to where I was.
“Right now I am trying to do what Coach Brown says, and that’s to shoot my way out of a slump. I’m also getting into a lot better shape. After practice, I am running drills and shooting. I need to get stronger, and I know I am going to be slower for a while. It’s just a process.”
Brown estimates Bunch is about 85 percent of where she finished last season. It doesn’t really matter at this point. “She wants to be in there,” Brown said. “She wants to play.”
No matter what her movement is like, East has gotten a burst of energy with Bunch’s competitive desire added to the mix. If senior Mikala Lomax can share the offensive load with Bunch, point guard Courtney Hunter can control the pace and players such as Wetzel, Molly Macy, Kristen Bellinger and Sarah Loesch can squeeze every ounce of talent from their bodies, Madison might not be the last upset victim.
With four games remaining in the regular season, including today’s 7:30 p.m. game at Bloomington South, East fans won’t have to wait long to find out.