When Columbus East and Columbus North meet in girls and boys basketball this week, there is a good chance one or more freshmen could play key roles.
The East girls, which visit North on Thursday, have six freshmen playing varsity minutes, including a pair of starters. The Bull Dogs have a pair of freshmen girls who contribute off the bench.
The North boys, who visit East on Friday, have a promising freshman in Cooper Horn, who has provided a spark off the bench for the 4-1 Bull Dogs.
“Honestly, over the summer, I didn’t expect to make that big of an impact coming over from middle school,” Horn said. “But all the leaders that we have in our program have helped make me such a confident player. They’re such positive influences around me, it just makes it so much easier.”
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Horn is averaging 7.2 points, tied for fourth-best on the team. He leads North with 54 percent shooting from 3-point shooting and is second on the team with 63 percent shooting overall from the field.
“Cooper has had a great start to the season,” North coach Paul Ferguson said. “He’s added a lot to our varsity team both in practice and games. He’s an excellent shooter and also has really improved his strength and his defensive abilities.”
The 6-foot-2 Horn started off with a bang, scoring a season-high 13 points in a season-opening win against Heritage Christian. But he did not score Saturday when Fishers handed the Bull Dogs their first loss of the season.
“It’s been kind of an up-and-down season,” Horn said. “I had a meeting with coach Ferguson the other day, and he basically told me, ‘Don’t get too high whenever you have the highest of your moments, and don’t get too low.’ I’ve had some games where I shot the ball really well, and those were probably my best games, but I’ve had some games where I really didn’t shoot that well and turned it over a couple times, and all the leaders just basically told me not to get too down on myself, so that really helped.”
While not many freshman boys at a school the size of North get to play varsity, Horn is the second Bull Dog in three years to do just that. Blake Barker, who now is a junior, started as a freshman.
“I think having Blake on the team has helped him because he and Blake have talked a little bit about what it was like for Blake coming up as a freshman, and Blake has been a good mentor to him,” Ferguson said. “I also think we’ve had a lot of positive leadership from our veterans, and they’ve made it a very welcoming environment for Cooper to come into, and I think that’s helped him to play with a lot of confidence, knowing that his teammates and coaches are behind him.”
East Gabby Dean has perhaps made the biggest impact of any freshman boys or girls player in Columbus this season. The 6-4 Dean is second on the East girls team with 7.5 points a game and leads the team with 8.9 rebounds and 4.9 blocks. She recorded a triple-double in East’s win at Bloomington North and just missed another in a victory at Class A No. 1 Loogootee.
Leah Bachmann also has been a starter all season for East, and Emma Jenkins, Brielle Stevens and Heidi Murphy have made contributions off the bench for the 7-4 Olympians. Another freshman, Saige Stahl, moved up to varsity after the first few games and now is the team’s fourth-leading scorer (6.3) and second-leading rebounder (6.0).
“They’ve been a vital part of our program this year and will continue to be a vital part of our program for the next three years,” East girls coach Danny Brown said. “Gabby and Leah and Emma and Heidi and Brielle were with us all summer,” Brown said. “Saige came into the basketball program late, so we weren’t as familiar with her, but we are now.”
The Olympians’ top four rebounders are freshmen.
East also has eight freshmen who are playing siginificant roles on the JV team.
“This is a deep freshman class that we have at East,” Brown said.
At North, Barker’s sister Lauren has been lighting things up. She had a breakout game last week when she led the Bull Dogs with 17 points in a win at Greenwood.
“I think as we’ve gotten more into the flow of playing with the girls, learning strengths and weaknesses, it’s just helped us grow as a team, and then us individually, to learn about our teammates,” Lauren Barker said. “I think we try to encourage each other as much as we can, and it’s good to have great upperclassmen that are willing to help us.”
Lauren Barker is averaging 4.9 points and 1.4 rebounds a game. Another freshman, Emma Long, adds 1.2 points for North.
“I’m just glad that I even get the opportunity to play varsity,” Long said. “I’ve been wanting to do this since I was a little girl. All the teammates have been so supportive during all of it.”
“They’ve both made a nice impact at all levels which they’ve played,” North girls coach Pat McKee said. “Emma hasn’t scored quite as much as Lauren, but she’s played really well, and we’re very confident in Emma and everything she brings to us. Lauren, as well, has played very well. We’re happy with our entire freshman group, including Rylie Bozeman and Moana Steele, who have played quite a bit of JV, and the rest of the freshman team. They’re all working hard.”
The Bull Dogs have won three in a row to improve to 5-5 going into tonight’s home game against Seymour. North had lost five in a row — all on the road — including close losses to Class 4A No. 1 Lawrence North, 4A No. 3 Crown Point and 3A then-No. 8 Heritage Christian.
“I know when we were losing to some pretty well-skilled teams by a little bit, it was kind of frustrating, but I’m glad that we’ve picked it up and been able to win some here,” Barker said. “We know that playing those tougher teams has only bade us better for what’s going to be coming in the long run.”
“I think playing the better teams in the beginning of the season has made us stronger as a team emotionally and physically,” Long said. “Everyone looks at the record, but we look at the process it takes to win sectional and go on.”
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Columbus East at Columbus North girls basketball
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday (6 p.m. JV)
Where: Columbus North High School
Note: There will be a Unified basketball game between East and North between the JV and varsity games. Also, the Indy Air Bears jump-rope team will perform at halftime of the varsity game.
Columbus North at Columbus East boys basketball
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (6 p.m. JV)
Where: Columbus East High School
Note: East volleyball coach Stacie Pagnard and gymnastics coach Nancy Kirshman are putting on a food drive to benefit Love Chapel, Turning Point and the Salvation Army from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday in the main gym at East.