When Columbus East boys basketball coach Brent Chitty looks back on his 2013-14 Olympians, he won’t have title banners or tournament championships to think about.
Even so, he will have something that every coach cherishes.
“This team practiced hard,” Chitty said following his team’s 17-5 season. “There were maybe two practices out of 65 when we didn’t. That is a fun thing to be a part of. Their work ethic was one of the keys to our success.
“These guys love to play and they worked extremely hard at it.”
East had a chance to share the Hoosier Hills Conference championship but lost 74-68 on the road to Jeffersonville in the final league game. The Olympians were eliminated by Bloomington South 55-45 in the sectional semifinals.
As Columbus East began the season, though, the thought of challenging for a conference title or registering 17 wins probably seemed far-fetched to most. The Olympians suffered heavy graduation losses from the season before and had two sophomores, point guard Parker Chitty and forward Kevin Williams, in the starting lineup.
Although junior forward Connor Umphress already had established himself as an excellent player, the only starter returning from the previous season’s team was center Bryce Lienhoop.
What the team lacked in experience, it made up in tenacity.
“I was just really blessed to coach this group,” Brent Chitty said. “It all started with our senior leadership.”
Brent Chitty wasn’t just talking about Lienhoop. Seniors Jordan Foster, Josh Smith, JT Voelker and Peyton Gray might not have been starters, but they made an impact that will last beyond their final season.
“My No. 1 hope is that our underclassmen learned a lot from this year’s seniors,” Brent Chitty said. “The unselfishness of this team always came first. It really sets the table for the underclassmen. When we played unselfish, we were at our best. Guys were stepping up to do things to help each other.”
Brent Chitty said if players from the junior varsity and freshmen teams follow that lead, East will continue to register winning seasons.
“You find ways to win games, you start with that,” Brent Chitty said. “Ultimately, if you play unselfish, you give opportunities to the other guys.
“In the summertime, you go to work and you ask, ‘What can I do to help the team? Maybe I can add some rebounds.’ That’s their challenge.”
Columbus East will return four of its five starters, including leading scorer Umphress, who averaged 18.4 points per game.
However, the one loss is huge.
“You can’t replace Bryce,” Brent Chitty said. “I’ve had people around this town who have watched basketball for a long time tell me that Bryce is one of the best players to ever come out of Columbus. You just can’t do the things that he did.
“He had the stats to back it up.”
Lienhoop averaged 15.1 points and 12.1 rebounds per game but his 5.6 assists per game got just as much attention. He received a scholarship to Saint Francis of Fort Wayne.
“I would like to have seen Bryce play with another true big,” Brent Chitty said. “It will be interesting to watch him play at Saint Francis.”
In the end, East’s lack of depth and inexperience probably was too much to overcome to win a league or sectional title.
“I think we tried to play too fast at times,” Chitty said. “The more patient we were, the better off we were.”
The effort it took to overcome some of those challenges was what made the season special to Brent Chitty.
“It was impressive,” he said.