After losing four starters from teams that had won 14 games in each of the previous two seasons, the casual observer might have seen Columbus East entering a rebuilding year.
Bryce Lienhoop and the rest of the returning Olympians had other ideas.
Lienhoop put together another spectacular season in leading East to a 17-5 record and a runner-up finish in the Hoosier Hills Conference. The senior forward is this year’s The Republic Athlete of the Year for boys basketball.
“A lot of people had doubts about us before the season started, and I think we kind of exceeded a lot of people’s expectations,” Lienhoop said. “I think we all thought we could do pretty well. We had been playing with the older guys over the summer and getting better and getting some team chemistry, and it all started working out.”
After averaging 14.4 points,
10.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists as a junior, Lienhoop led the Olympians with 15.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists this season.
“The year before, I was asked to do more scoring, but this year, I helped manage the game and did what I could to help find my teammates open.”
The two-time team MVP and three-time All-HHC player also averaged 1.3 steals and led East with 3.1 blocks. He shot 60 percent from the field and 71 percent from the free-throw line.
“Bryce has so many different dimensions to his game,” East coach Brent Chitty said. “He’s a kid who can score. He can rebound. He makes other players better around him. He’s a kid that’s played hard every day. At Columbus East, we were blessed to have him
in our program for the last four years.
“He was incredible,” he said. “He was a great leader for us. He leads with his actions. He and the other seniors put the team before themselves. They wanted to try to win.”
Lienhoop has been invited to participate in Sunday’s Top 60 Workout at Marian University.
“I’m very grateful to have the opportunity in the Top 60,” Lienhoop said. “I’m hoping to have a good showing there and represent my school and myself well.”
The 6-foot-7 Lienhoop has committed to play collegiately at St. Francis. The Cougars beat eventual NAIA national champion Indiana Wesleyan during the regular season, but lost to Robert Morris (Ill.) in overtime in the first round of the Division II Tournament.
“I need to get a lot stronger probably,” Lienhoop said. “I need to work out a lot over the summer, improve my ball-handling and look at whatever they need me to do. The goal is hopefully to win a national championship.”