By Ben Stroup
Last season was one coaches, players and fans associated with the Olentangy Liberty girls basketball team won’t soon forget.
Heck, after complementing a 25-2 campaign with OCC and Central District championships — easily the best girls basketball season in school history — it’s one they’ll likely never forget.
The trick this time around will be finding a way to do it again.
Adding to the memory bank, and record book, won’t be easy, but the Patriots certainly have the pieces to make it work.
Senior guard Alexa Fisher, who averaged 17 points, five rebounds and four assists per game on the way to earning OCC Player of the Year, first team All-District and second team All-Ohio honors last winter, is waiting to be cleared to play after suffering a knee injury in the offseason.
Second-year coach Sam Krafty said she’s looked better than ever in practice, though, and should be given the green light in a couple weeks.
“Lexi looks better than ever,” he said. “Looks faster, with better skills. It may take us awhile to hit our stride, but when we do I think we can play with anybody.”
Liberty already has a signature win to its credit, defeating defending state finalist Toledo Notre Dame Academy 50-46 in Saturday’s opener.
So much for taking time to hit their stride.
The Patriots return all but two players from last year’s record-breaking bunch, including junior guard Bre Yashko and senior post Lauren Hofer, who combined for 30 points in the season-opening win.
Senior wing Savitha Jayaraman, junior guard Katie Harrop, senior wings Madison King and Taylor Hodak and senior guard Gracie Foth are also back and ready to go. Senior guard Samantha Krafty is back as well, but will be sidelined for the season.
Sprinkle in sophomore newcomers Kennedy Kashmiry (guard), Sydney Englehart (wing) and Lauren Spicer (post) and the Patriots appear poised to make another memorable march.
“We definitely raised the bar last year,” Krafty said. “Things really fell into place for us, and we got on an amazing run. We are trying to do the same things we did last year: the little things.”
Another 25-win season isn’t automatic, though. The Patriots have to climb back to the top.
“What I’m finding out is it’s not picking up where you left off,” the coach said. “Each team, and year, is different. At times this preseason we have really played well, and at times we haven’t. Consistently doing the right things — the little things that build chemistry and trust on the floor — that’s the tradition I’m interested in helping build at Liberty. I don’t know if we can win 25 games every year, but we can control how hard we work, and how much we care everyday.”
And Krafty said he hasn’t had any trouble getting his talented group to push itself.
“We like our speed and our skill,” he said. “We can shoot it pretty well and we have athletes. We have a lot of experience, we lack a little size, but we can make up for that with our heart.”
The size issue has a lot to do with the loss of post Kristen Levering, who is playing for Miami (Ohio) this season. Levering and Hayley Hickman are the only players the team lost to graduation, but both will be tough to replace.
“From a production standpoint, replacing Levering’s 11 rebounds a game concerns us the most,” Krafty said. “But with 11 kids, everybody has to go get one more rebound … that’s the way we look at it. Both were great teammates and leaders. Hayley was a kid every team needs.”
Despite the losses, the goals stay the same.
“Our goals this year, just as last year, start and stop with competing for the OCC-Central Division championship,” Krafty said. “I’m sure we will get everybody’s best shot as we took the league by surprise a little last year. In this division, you must stay focused on the task at hand and be ready to play every night.”
Follow Ben Stroup on Twitter @delgazette_ben.