Sam Krafty has seen plenty of highs and plenty of lows in his four years coaching the Olentangy Liberty girls basketball team.
He’s seen four of his top players suffer season-ending injuries in the last three years.
Alexa Fisher had a season-ending foot injury three years ago and Breanna Yashko tore her ACL and missed the end of the season two years ago.
Last year was worse. Teegan Pifher suffered a season-ending knee injury just five minutes into the team’s third game.
Then, Kennedy Kashmiry tore her ACL in the third quarter of the first-round district tournament game at Westerville Central.
“Speaking personally for me – it’s heart-breaking,” Krafty said. “It has been gut-wrenching at times. Last year … it seemed like it was every other day that something was happening.”
Krafty said the team is working in a strength-and-conditioning program to hopefully prevent future injuries.
“As a program – I’ve been really proud of the kids,” he said. “We’ve made a much stronger effort to work out here together with our strength-and-conditioning staff with the focus on injury prevention and core-strengthening. You never know what’s going to happen, but I can say with confidence this year that we’ve done as much as we possibly can to prevent it.”
Liberty rallied to get to its second district title game in school history and first since it won in Krafty’s first season.
“The kids were battle-tested and the kids had to overcome adversity several times throughout the year,” he said. “The schedule really got us ready for that. We had great senior leadership on last year’s team.”
This year’s team doesn’t have defined leadership roles yet. But Krafty is hoping that clears up before too long.
Betsy Merritt, Abby Erickson, Jessie Barna and Kiera McCloskey are Liberty’s four seniors. All four saw playing time to varying degrees on last year’s squad.
As for junior Kelly Levering … she made lemonade out of Pifher’s lemon of an injury.
Levering was predominantly a spot-up shooter previously, but was forced to take on a different role after Pifher went out.
“Last year when Teegan went down, I had to play the five for a hot-second,” Levering said. “I didn’t know what I was doing. It forced me to improve my game. I was always able to put my weight (on somebody else before the injury).”
Pifher’s return gives Liberty a formidable one-two punch with a knee brace as the only visual evidence of last year’s injury.
Junior Gina Santangelo was another that stepped up last season. She’s the prototypical shooter that knocks down threes in bunches.
Freshman Trinity Ramos gives Liberty what Levering called a “true point guard.”
“We’ve got a lot of kids that can score. (Santangelo) could shoot it and get hot,” Krafty said. “Trin is as good a point guard as I’ve seen – at least around here. She does a very good job running the show and is a sneaky scorer. She can get hot and score in bunches.”
Junior Tatum Perkins and sophomores Caitlin Splain and Sarah Balliett add depth for the Patriots. Balliett is a newcomer to the varsity roster.
“I like our talent level,” Krafty said. “I like our potential. We’re stressing many of the little things that are going to keep us knocking on the door in the Central District. We’re going to hold each other accountable and try to push this thing to the max.”
Liberty opens up at the Journey to the Tourney event against Mason tonight at 7:40 p.m. at Lakota West in West Chester.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at [email protected]