Girls Basketball: Leading role suits Westerville South Wildcats' Aja Austin

Frank DiRenna
ThisWeek group
Senior center Aja Austin was averaging team highs of 23.0 points and 12.3 rebounds through 13 games while providing vital leadership for South. Austin will play college basketball at Delaware.

As Aja Austin prepared for her senior season as a center on the Westerville South girls basketball team, she braced for new challenges.

Austin helped lead the Wildcats to a Division I district final last season, but with the loss of Gabby Hutcherson and Anyssa Jones to graduation, she would have a more prominent role this season. 

She hasn’t shied away from the additional responsibilities, averaging team highs of 23.0 points and 12.3 rebounds through 13 games while providing vital leadership.

“I really like it,” Austin said of her role. “It’s getting the underclassmen going. It’s not just me because they can do their thing, too.” 

Knowing the Wildcats would be relying on her for so much, Austin began an intense conditioning program in the offseason. She has lost 30 pounds since last season. 

“I saw (Austin) when she was younger and she was a talent then,” coach Jermaine Guice said. “This year she’s really stepped up and she’s going the extra mile. We can see it in the conditioning when we’re doing drills. She’s gotten herself in better shape to have a really good senior year.” 

Austin is among the area leaders in scoring and rebounding and has helped put South in position to make another postseason run. She eclipsed the 20-point mark in 10 of the first 13 games and scored a career-high 30 in a 60-27 win over Pickerington North on Jan. 16 in the Martin Luther King Jr. Classic at Pickerington Central.

“She’s had a fantastic season,” Guice said. “She’s doing what she’s being asked to do as a senior captain. The coaches are tough on her and typically she does a really good job of responding to it. Kudos to her for her ability and her temperament. She’s been doing a great job this year.” 

The Wildcats were 10-3 overall and 7-1 in the OCC-Capital Division before playing Westerville North on Jan. 29.

Austin credits Guice for her progression in the sport. 

“Coach Jermaine is one of my best coaches, one of my favorite coaches,” she said. “He pushes me every day to get better. He doesn’t let me be lackadaisical when I do things.” 

Austin also has earned the opportunity to play collegiately at Delaware.

“It wasn’t a tough choice,” she said. “Once I talked to the coaches and the players, I felt like it was the place for me and where I’d be the most successful. ... It’s a dream come true. I wanted to play college basketball since I was a little kid, so it’s really surreal.” 

She joins a recent group of Wildcats to earn Division I scholarships, including Hutcherson and Jones at Ohio State, Peyton Guice at Ohio and Sommer Pitzer at Indiana State. Guice and Pitzer are 2019 graduates. 

Austin scored 24 points in a 57-42 win over Big Walnut on Jan. 22. 

Nelia Guice scored 22 points, Austin had 19 and Leila Jones added 18 in a 53-49 win over Worthington Kilbourne on Jan. 25. 

South’s busy stretch continued with a 76-54 loss to Reynoldsburg on Jan. 26. Austin scored 20 points, Jones had 14 and Guice added 12. 

“We need contributions from everyone,” coach Guice said. “Teams see what (Austin) is doing, so a lot of them are trying to prepare to slow her down and try to stop her, so for us to have success in the postseason everyone is going to have to step up and be ready to play because they are going to try to take her away and do different things.” 

Last season, Austin averaged 12.1 points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. The Wildcats won their third consecutive OCC-Buckeye title at 9-1 before losing to Reynoldsburg 61-57 in overtime in a district final to finish 20-5 overall. 

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank