By Ben Stroup
The Big Walnut and Buckeye Valley girls basketball teams saw their seasons follow a similar trajectory last winter.
The Golden Eagles closed 12-11 while the Barons finished 13-11. They had winning records, but both wound up in the bottom half of their conference standings — OCC-Capital and MOAC-Red, respectively.
While they looked a lot alike a season ago, they’ll look a bit different when they meet in tonight’s season opener in Sunbury.
Big Walnut will be looking to fill the shoes of Makenna Hammond, a first team All-OCC guard who graduated last spring after leading the Eagles in scoring with 17 points per game.
“Replacing her points will be a challenge for us,” BW coach Steve Palmer said. “It will be done by committee and will probably be by different people on different nights.”
Key returners include Paige Norman, Katie Neff and Taryn Hammond, who all started at times last year.
Neff, a junior guard, made 32 three-pointers last winter, shooting at a 31-percent clip from deep. Taryn Hammond, another junior guard, averaged seven points per game while Norman, a sophomore guard, averaged 4.4 points and three rebounds per game.
Others expected to contribute include seniors Ellie Jindra (forward), Colleen White (Forward) and Rachel Brown (guard), junior Kelly Kreager (guard) and sophomore guards Katie Cochran, Stacey Walters and Alayna Trott.
Overall, the Eagles are deeper than they were a year ago … they’re just young.
“We are deeper on the bench this year,” Palmer said. “We will go eight to nine players deep, and our guard play will be better, but our weakness will be our youthfulness with all the newcomers.”
Palmer said the biggest question will be how well his young group can adjust to the speed and play at the varsity level … and Buckeye Valley, a team built to push the ball, will certainly test them in that respect right off the bat.
The Barons lost a couple key cogs to graduation in the inside-outside duo of Maddie Oberle and Amy Stought, but return seven letterwinners — senior Jo Ann Leienberger, juniors Logan Hatcher (Honorable Mention All-MOAC and District 11), Megan Veneman and Kelsey Shearer and sophomores Morgan Scowden, Tess Hughes and Alaina Radcliffe.
Baron coach Landon Fraker said team speed compliments the experience.
Tonight’s season opener is set to tip at 7:30 p.m.
Olentangy Liberty showed what kind of team it has the potential to be this season, handling Toledo Notre Dame Academy, a Division I state finalist from a season ago, 50-46 during Saturday’s Gary West tournament in Reynoldsburg.
The Patriots set the tone early, racing out to a 12-7 lead by the end of the first quarter. The teams were even after that, but the damage was done.
Liberty’s Bre Yashko and Lauren Hofer combined for 30 points in the win while Notre Dame Academy’s Mariah Copeland had a team-leading nine points.
Also: Centerville 52, Olentangy 30
Follow Ben Stroup on Twitter @delgazette_ben.