Girls Basketball: Balance carries Olentangy Braves through uncertainty

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Olentangy coach Kate Cummings has seen her team battle through COVID-19 issues and uncertainty to contend for its first league title since 2016. The Braves were 11-4 overall and 6-1 in the OCC-Cardinal before playing Hilliard Darby on Feb. 5.

Olentangy girls basketball coach Kate Cummings smiled and admitted losing track of the OCC-Cardinal Division standings as the Braves pursued their first league championship since 2016.

According to Cummings, just sustaining the Braves’ success has been enough of a challenge, although not through any fault of her players.

“You always feel like you’re running uphill. There’s no momentum,” Cummings said, acknowledging constant uncertainty because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, which impacted the Braves in the form of a quarantine in December that meant more than a month from games between Nov. 28 and Dec. 30. “We got paused for three weeks. Somebody has been out every week. We haven’t had our full varsity team together since November, even for practice, but I like their energy. I like that they want to try to get better every day.

“They embrace contributions from younger girls. We play different kids every night and everybody is contributing. We are trying to play one quarter at a time and not look too far down the road.”

Even the Braves’ senior night Jan. 22 against Berlin was in question until about a week before.

Nonetheless, Olentangy was 11-4 overall and 6-1 in the league before playing Hilliard Darby on Feb. 5, a game ahead of second-place Marysville.

The Braves, who had not won more than 11 games overall or five league contests in either of Cummings’ first two seasons, are scheduled to end the regular season Feb. 12 at home against Dublin Jerome. The Celtics beat Olentangy 46-30 on Jan. 8.

“This honestly surprises us. We knew we had a little bit of a chance coming into the season, but we didn’t think a lot of people expected something from us,” senior forward Dani Beidelman said. “That fueled us. I am really excited to see where this could go.”

Beidelman, classmate Ellen Kinnaird and sophomores Paige Pawlikowski and Reagan Richeson have anchored the paint, while Kennedie Doup, Jonna Spohn and Meg Spohn have led the guards. Doup, an Otterbein commit, and Meg Spohn are seniors, two years ahead of Jonna Spohn.

Kinnaird has signed to play volleyball at Akron.

Doup, who played forward at lower levels, made a program-record seven 3-pointers in a 60-44 win at Orange on Jan. 19. The previous record was held by Grace Pennington, who made six 3s against Westerville North in 2018.

“It’s been different things. Sometimes our offense is good and sometimes it’s not,” Doup said. “Our defense has done an amazing job. Our defense wins our games.”

Olentangy earned the 12th seed in the 41-team Division I district tournament and will open the postseason Feb. 19 at home with a second-round game against 19th-seeded Big Walnut. The Braves lost to the Golden Eagles 50-42 on Dec. 30 in their first game out of quarantine.

“We got back (from quarantine), we were all out of shape and we weren’t sure how good we’d be,” Doup said. “Our hope is to finish out strong.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave