Starting Anew / Bull Dogs begin season with new coach for first time in 11 years

It’s a new era in Columbus North girls basketball. The Brett White Era.

White takes over for Pat McKee, who in 11 seasons with the Bull Dogs, won six sectional, four regional, three semistate and one state title and became the school’s all-time winningest coach. White was along as an assistant for the past nine seasons and led the team this past offseason.

“We had a good summer,” White said. “We worked on some things and put people in different spots during the summer, kind of evaluating where we’re at. So that was a good steppingstone for us, and then this fall, with our limited contact, we were able to have a majority of our girls together, so it was a positive for us.”

White has liked what he has seen in practice the past two weeks and in Thursday’s scrimmage against Lawrence Central. North opens the season Tuesday at Hamilton Southeastern.

“Overall I’ve been pleased, especially with our effort in practice,” White said. “We play a little earlier than normal this year, so we actually had to put things in a little bit sooner than what I’d like to. But I think our focus has been good, and I think we’ve had good energy.”

Three starters return from a team that went 13-6, including 5-0 in winning the Conference Indiana title. The Bull Dogs fell to East Central in the sectional final.

Kylah Lawson, a 5-foot-10 senior, averaged 9.5 points and led the Bull Dogs with 8.8 points and 2.2 steals a game last season.

“Kylah has to be a leader for us,” White said. “She’s not only a senior, but she’s a three-year returning starter. So anytime you have someone with that much experience, the kids are going to naturally look to her. She’s not really a vocal person naturally, so she has to step out of her box a little bit and be a little bit more vocal, and I think she has been trying to do that for us.”

Lawson has expanded her game to include the perimeter.

“In the past, she’s played primarily in the post, but now, we feel like she can step out on the floor,” White said. “Her ballhandling has improved, and her shooting has improved, so she feels comfortable out there.”

Lauren Barker, a 5-5 junior, is the leading returning scorer at 11.7 and the leading returning assist player at 1.4.

“Lauren is obviously one of our better scorers and shooters, but she also has a good basketball IQ,” White said. “She plays a lot.”

Emma Long, 5-9 junior, moves to point guard to replace last year’s leading scorer, Alexa McKinley. Long averaged 3.7 points and 2.5 rebounds last season.

“It’s a different role for her, but she’s taken that role on, and I’ve been very pleased with the progress she’s been making,” White said.

Andrea Justis, a 6-0 senior, could take over the center spot, allowing Lawson to move to forward. Lucy Norman and Reagan Ables, a pair of 5-9 seniors, are vying for the other forward spot.

“Andrea has really stepped up in the offseason and kind of cemented her spot in the lineup,” White said. “That fifth spot has kind of been rotating in the summer. We have younger girls who are pushing them a little bit. This is going to be a year where I’m not sure we’re locked into a starting lineup. Obviously, our three cornerstones (Lawson, Barker and Long) are going to be mainstays there, but outside of that, we could see some variety.”

Rylie Boezeman, a 5-7 junior, will back up Long at the point. Kayla Jones, a 5-5 junior, is in her first year at North after being the top player at Columbus Christian the past four years.

Kennedy Horn, a 6-2 freshman, provides height inside, and 5-6 freshman Hadassah Hurt gives the Bull Dogs depth in the backcourt.

“We actually have some other younger girls that I feel like with some work and some experience, maybe will push into a varsity position, as well,” White said. “That’s what’s been good for us. We have competition. We have those three mainstays coming back, but outside of that, there’s competition at those spots, so we’re going to see some fluidity this year.”

North has a brutal schedule this year, beginning with HSE on Tuesday and Franklin, a final-four team last year, in Saturday’s home opener. The Bull Dogs picked up perennial power Carmel this season and will again play perennial powers Lawrence North and Ben Davis, two-time defending sectional champion East Central. North also will play crosstown rival Columbus East this year after last season’s game was canceled while the Bull Dogs were in quarantine.

“There’s no rest for the weary here,” White said. “We only play two 3A schools, and one of them is Silver Creek, and the other is Rushville, who are both top-of-the-line 3A schools. We just feel like the season is good preparation to make us as tough as we can to get us ready for the sectional. We’ll compete in those games, and hopefully, it will make us better for the postseason.”