While we have high school sports programs that are powers year after year, success can tend to run in cycles.
It can be luck of the draw that a basketball coach lands a pair of tall, talented players who can raise a program to a very high level. Or perhaps a couple of great shooters or dribblers or whatever. Just plain talented.
When you look at the Columbus East girls basketball program, it’s hard not to think, “What if?”`
What if Allyson Bunch were a sophomore?
Olympians coach Danny Brown has some very talented, and inexperienced, players coming into his system. Sophomores such as Audrey Wetzel and Bryn Eudy along with 6-foot freshman Grace Hatton tend to make you think that the future is bright for East girls basketball.
The right-now version of East (8-9 overall) looks very much like what it is ... a work in progress.
So when the sectional draw came out Sunday, East fans probably had a one-word reaction. Yikes!
East’s opening game of tournament play will be
Feb. 14 against No. 3-ranked North. OK, North does have to win a first-round game against Shelbyville, a team it beat 57-27 this season. But unless the sun doesn’t come up on Feb. 14 (or if we get 8 inches of snow), North and East will meet at Bloomington South High School.
The Olympians get a first-round bye, but wouldn’t it have been nice if they could have been drawn in the opposite bracket of the Bull Dogs?
As it stands, that game
is likely to be the end of Bunch’s career.
I’m sure North coach Pat McKee would offer a different argument. A few days after the Bull Dogs beat the Olympians 79-43 in December, McKee was explaining that if circumstances were different early in that game, it would have been much closer. He takes any game against East very seriously. He takes finding ways to slow down the 5-foot-10 Bunch very seriously.
Circumstance is the key word in all this, and especially for Bunch, who is the fourth-leading scorer in East history.
What if she didn’t have three ACL tears? What if she had another big-time player or two around her?
No matter what the circumstance, it simply has been fun to watch Bunch play.
Why? Because she is unafraid.
Some players, whether in high school or the NBA, don’t want the responsibility for having the game on their shoulders.
Bunch is a “bring-it-on” kind of player. If one shot is going to decide a game, throw it to Bunch and she is going to let it fly. She isn’t afraid of success or failure.
Sure her injuries have slowed her down and pretty much toasted East last season when Bunch’s return toward the end of the season kind of put the squad into an “out-of-synch” mode.
It was obvious last year that she wasn’t quite the same player who scored 20.2 points a game as a sophomore and pulled down 8.7 rebounds every game.
Now completely healthy again, Bunch continues to be a difference-maker. She averages the same number of points this season as last (15.8), but if you watch East play you can see that she is mobile again and able to do so much more.
Her return to good health hasn’t translated into overall team success. Like previously noted, East is suffering a bit from growing pains. That hasn’t stopped Bunch from doing everything possible to get the Olympians over the top.
My regret is that I came to Columbus too late to watch Bunch play as a sophomore. Now her days as a high school player are numbered. If only she had been born a couple of years later and I could watch her develop with the young talent around her.
Alas, she is a senior.
Our loss, but IPFW’s gain. That’s where Bunch will be playing college ball.
Now there are just a few more games to enjoy.
East hosts Southport at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, and that offers local fans a great opportunity to come honor a player who has worked through adversity to compete at a high level.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.