A speech by Big Walnut High School boys basketball coach Brett Bartlett following last season's 4-19 finish hit home for a group of four sophomores who knew their roles would drastically change.
The Golden Eagles lost last season's leading scorers in 2017 graduates Henry von Hollen, Ben Saxe and Alex Kelso.
"Coach Bartlett told us, 'Just because we're getting a year older doesn't mean we're getting better,'" junior guard Jordan Koebel said. "That kind of stuck out to all of us. We saw that we were young, and we saw the potential that we could have. Knowing that we were going to be losing a lot of our scoring, it kind of pushed us through the summer to get better."
The extra work has paid dividends for Big Walnut, which was 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Capital Division before playing at Newark on Dec. 22.
Three consecutive victories over Buckeye Valley (55-52 on Dec. 1), Canal Winchester (56-50 on Dec. 8) and Hamilton Township (55-51 on Dec. 12) followed a 58-48 season-opening loss to Watkins Memorial on Nov. 30.
"We feel like we've got some guys who are 'basketball' guys," Bartlett said. "At this point, it's making that adjustment in having to create your own shot and create for others."
Through six games, Big Walnut had its poorest shooting performances in losses to Olentangy Orange (57-34 on Dec. 19) and New Albany (52-42 on Dec. 15). The Golden Eagles were only 15-for-45 from the field against the Eagles.
Sophomore post player Kegan Hienton scored 12 points against the Pioneers.
"He's been a really great surprise for us and scoring for us down low," Bartlett said. "We're excited about him and his future in our program."
Big Walnut has been utilizing a seven-player rotation with Koebel, Hienton and juniors Carson Becker (forward), Brody Lawhun (guard) and Nathan Montgomery (guard) as starters and junior guard/forward Sam Elliott and sophomore guard Jackson Podraza in supporting roles.
"We can all put the ball in the hole," Koebel said. "We're all very capable shooters."
Koebel and Montgomery each scored 11 points against New Albany and Hienton added 10.
The statistics through five games prove that the Golden Eagles have been getting balanced scoring, as Koebel and Hienton both were averaging 10.6 points and Becker, Lawhun and Montgomery all were averaging nearly eight points.
Podraza, Hienton and Montgomery all were shooting around 50 percent from 3-point range.
Bartlett is looking for a vocal on-court leader to emerge from the group.
"If you would see us off the court, you'd think we're crazy for not talking on the court," Koebel said. "But sometimes, we're all so focused on what we're trying to do that we forget to talk. Coach said something about being a quarterback. We're all capable of stepping up and being more vocal and being good leaders."
Girls basketball team ends three-game skid
The girls basketball team ended a three-game losing streak with a 52-40 victory at Olentangy Orange on Dec. 19.
Big Walnut was 5-3 overall and 1-2 in the OCC-Capital before playing host to defending league champion Newark on Dec. 21. The Golden Eagles, who had won their first four games, traveled to Johnstown on Dec. 22.
Against Orange, Katie Cochran had 15 points and Avery Schone scored 14.
The Golden Eagles outscored the Pioneers 12-5 in the first quarter and led 23-14 at halftime.
Big Walnut's skid began with a 49-47 overtime loss to Canal Winchester on Dec. 8, followed by losses to New Albany (59-51 on Dec. 15) and Hartley (53-44 on Dec. 16).
Cochran scored 17 points against Hartley and 11 against New Albany, which converted 14 of 16 free throws in overtime. Schone had a team-high 14 points against New Albany.
White places 10th at Ned Reeb meet
Colin White of the boys swimming and diving team placed 10th in diving in the Ned Reeb Memorial Invitational on Dec. 16 at Ohio State.
The senior scored 305.4 points in 11 dives as Noah Vigran of Cincinnati Indian Hill (569.76) won.
White narrowly missed qualifying for the state meet last season, as he placed fifth at district, where the top four divers advanced to state.
"The boys are always right there with possibility of states," coach Jen White said. "Right now, we're aiming for top 10, for sure."
Below are the coming schedules for the Big Walnut boys basketball, girls basketball and swimming & diving teams:
Dec. 30 -- At Mansfield Madison
Dec. 27 -- Home vs. Marysville
Dec. 30 -- At Chillicothe Unioto
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 29 -- Westerville Central at Westerville Community Center