The Big Walnut girls basketball team has grown accustomed to hearing coach Jason Crawford's mantra: Even when your offense doesn't travel, your defense still will.
The Golden Eagles have thrived on that belief in starting 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the OCC-Capital Division before playing host to defending league champion Newark on Dec. 20.
"We mix it up a little bit, but we're always trying to take away what we believe to be the other team's strengths, whether that's penetrating or shooting the ball," Crawford said. "But it's basically good old-fashioned man-to-man defense. They're always trying to help each other out."
Big Walnut limited its first four opponents to an average of just 28.8 points per game, including lopsided victories against Olentangy Orange (55-26 on Dec. 10) and Mount Vernon (58-20 on Nov. 26).
Crawford pointed to a trio of strong defenders on the perimeter in senior guards Alyssa Tarney, Avery Schone and Alexis Schone. Senior post player Abby Facemyer and senior forward Payton Carter protect the middle.
"We're lucky enough that they're all really athletic and quick," Crawford said. "They can guard in multiple spots. We can pressure the ball if we want to. We can get out and trap and rotate and really get into people that way."
Tarney's assignment is to guard the opponent's best player, but she's quick to point out how well the group works together.
"Since we have five seniors, we know each other a lot and we know how each other plays, and that helps," Tarney said. "We really prepare for each opponent and know what each player can do individually."
Big Walnut needed its defense to overcome shooting woes in a 45-34 victory at New Albany on Dec. 13.
Avery Schone scored 14 of her 18 points in the fourth quarter, during which she made nine of 10 free-throw attempts.
"We've proven that we can stop a lot of good teams defensively," Tarney said. "We're off to a good start and hope it continues."
Big Walnut will be tested in the Watterson Christmas Classic, in which it faces Hilliard Bradley on Friday, Dec. 27, and the host Eagles on Saturday, Dec. 28. Entering play Dec. 20, Bradley was 6-1 and Watterson was 8-0.
"This is a very competitive tournament, and I thought it would be good for us this season since we're so experienced," Crawford said. "I thought it would be a great place to see where we are against some great teams in central Ohio."
Boys basketball team hopes to get healthy
Boys basketball coach Brett Bartlett expected to have one of his team's top scorers back in the lineup Dec. 20 for a game at Newark.
Junior guard Jagger Barnett was averaging 15.5 points before having to sit out losses to Orange (62-42 on Dec. 10) and New Albany (51-49 in overtime on Dec. 13) because of illness.
Big Walnut was 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Capital before playing Newark.
"Our kids are playing hard and there is some toughness about them," Bartlett said. "We still have a long ways to go, but I think our best basketball is yet to come."
Senior post player Kegan Hienton (14.2 points) and junior guard Jared Kreager (13.2) also were averaging in double figures through five games.
Barnett also noted that senior forward Jackson Podraza had been "banged up" because of injuries but was expected to play against Newark.
Wrestlers finish sixth in home tourney
Senior Ryan Coletta led the wrestling team to a sixth-place finish (154.5 points) in its 13-team PJ's Pizza Wrestling Classic on Dec. 14.
Galion Northmor (235) won the tournament over runner-up Dublin Jerome (217).
Coletta won the title at 160 pounds, going 5-0 in the tournament, while seniors Christian Jodrey (120) and Max Lenz (heavyweight) both placed second. Lenz suffered a shoulder injury during the semifinal match and had to forfeit the championship match.
Also for Big Walnut, sophomores Andrew Parker (106), Christian Takatch (160) and Wyatt Lenz (182) each finished fourth and sophomore Austin O'Malley (195) and freshman Vince Giordano (113) both placed fifth.
Below are the coming schedules for the Big Walnut boys basketball, girls basketball, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
Dec. 28 -- Home vs. Mifflin
Dec. 27 -- Hilliard Bradley at Watterson Christmas Classic
Dec. 28 -- Watterson at Watterson Christmas Classic
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 27 -- Westerville Central at Westerville Recreation Center
Dec. 27-28 -- GMVWA Holiday Tournament at Vandalia Butler