The Canal Winchester High School girls basketball team's struggles at the free-throw line this season have left coach Gary Burke scratching his head.
The Indians were 8-11 overall before playing Hamilton Township on Feb. 2, including 2-5 in games decided by six points or fewer. Through 19 games, they had made only 55.7 percent (194 of 348) of their foul shots.
According to Burke, his team's poor free-throw shooting was the difference in close losses to Westerville South (46-44 on Nov. 27), Logan Elm (62-56 on Dec. 7 and 56-52 on Jan. 15), Teays Valley (62-60 on Dec. 21) and Thomas Worthington (49-46 on Jan. 26).
"We've lost several close games at the free-throw line," said Burke, whose team will open the Division I district tournament Feb. 16 at eighth-seeded Hilliard Davidson. "We didn't shoot even 50 percent from the foul line in our losses to Logan Elm, and we missed the front end of two 1-and-1 (free-throw) situations in the fourth quarter of our loss to Thomas Worthington.
"At some point, we need to start making those shots and winning these games. We've tried just about every technique I can think of to improve, but free-throw shooting is more of a state of mind. We need to believe, not hope, that we're going make those shots."
Burke said the Indians have cut down considerably on turnovers compared to the past two seasons when they finished 5-16 each year.
As the team's primary ball-handler, point guard Kaleigh Whitlatch has played a big role in their offensive improvement, averaging 11.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.9 steals through 19 games.
Forward Raven Hamilton was averaging 12.2 points and 7.2 rebounds and post player Sarah Miles was averaging 8.7 points and 5.7 rebounds.
"Our ball-handling, passing and offensive execution have really improved," Burke said. "Raven Hamilton and (guard) Jade Smith have come on really strong this year and we've got a lot of players contributing. We still don't have a consistent scorer who we can count on to score 14 or 15 points per night, but we're scoring enough to win games."
Burke said his team is working hard to improve its defense with the postseason quickly approaching. Canal Winchester was 3-10 when allowing 49 or more points through 19 games.
"We have to get better defensively because we're giving up too many points," Burke said. "Defense wins championships and if we can't stop teams better than we have, we won't be around long in the (Division I) district tournament."
Canal Winchester concludes its regular season and MSL-Buckeye Division schedule on Friday, Feb. 8, at home against Fairfield Union.
The Indians lost to Fairfield Union 70-46 on Jan. 5, as 5-foot-6 guard Anna Voris had 29 points and 5-8 forward Kyleigh Wyeth scored 19 to pace the Falcons. Whitlatch led Canal Winchester with 13 points, with Miles and guard Taylor Thompson each scoring eight.
"We have to play good defense because we can't afford to trade baskets with Fairfield Union all night," Burke said. "We hung with them in the first game and then they got on a run late in the second quarter to open up a big lead. This is our senior night and last game of the (regular) season, so it's a chance to get some momentum going into the tournament."
The district tournament begins Feb. 16.
Boys basketball team prepares for Rangers
The boys basketball team will play host to Hamilton Township in an MSL-Buckeye game on Saturday, Feb. 9.
The Indians beat the Rangers 58-52 on Jan. 8 behind 14 points from point guard Thomas Nolan and 13 from center Keenan Tate.
Canal Winchester went 1-1 last weekend, defeating Circleville 82-56 in an MSL-Buckeye game Feb. 1 before losing to visiting Gahanna 65-56 on Feb. 2. Both games were at home.
The Indians had four players score in double figures against Circleville. Forward Seth McCoy led the way with 22 points, followed by guard Brendan Snyder (14), guard Daltyn Colley (11) and forward Skyler Scott (10).
McCoy had a team-high 17 points against Gahanna, with forward Alex McCoy and Nolan scoring 13 and 12, respectively.
Low numbers hurting wrestling team in duals
With only 11 athletes on its roster, the wrestling team is not able to fill each of the 14 weight classes.
Consequently, the Indians have struggled in dual matches, as they are 1-4 in the MSL-Buckeye. They will conclude their league schedule Thursday, Feb. 7, with a tri-match against host Teays Valley and Hamilton Township.
"It's been frustrating to wrestle in dual and tri-matches this season because we've had to forfeit at least four weight classes in every match, which makes it tough to beat any team (that has) a full lineup," said coach Trent Brooks, whose team has six first-year wrestlers. "Teays Valley and Hamilton Township both have full lineups, so we probably won't win those matches. We're just looking forward to the postseason because we have some tough kids who should do well there."
The Indians have fared better in tournaments, including the West Jefferson Invitational on Dec. 27 and 28. They scored 265 points in the 18-team event to place seventh, behind champion Hillsboro (449).
Max Lacey had won five tournament titles and was 35-1 at 220 pounds before Jan. 31. In the West Jefferson Invitational, he went 5-0, beating West Jefferson's Corey Ginn 9-7 in overtime in the final. Ginn was a Division III state qualifier last season.
Nick Hammond (145) placed second in the West Jefferson Invitational.
"Max wasn't very good through most of his freshman and sophomore years, but he flipped a switch and earned the nickname 'Mr. Clutch' because he wrestles well in big matches," Brooks said. "Max beat a projected state champ in the finals of the West Jefferson Invitational and he's wrestling great overall. Nick Hammond and Zach Snyder (152) are having good years and so is Emmanuel Barnes (132)."