Eastern’s girls basketball team returns all its points from last season. Each and every one.
The Comets went 12-10 overall and 5-2 in the Hoosier Heartland Conference last season with no seniors. A dozen players return from that squad, accounting for every point, every rebound and every assist.
As a result, the Comets start this season well ahead of where they started last year. Eastern has seven seniors, as well as five sophomores and juniors who played last season.
“Not having any seniors [last season] I had to bring up some freshmen who probably weren’t ready to come up, but we had to get them ready for this season,” third-year coach Andy Steele said. “We had a big gap last year between the juniors that I had and the underclassmen, and the gap’s a lot smaller [now].
“Work ethic has been great. Last year I had to do a lot of teaching, this year I don’t. We’re very senior-led. They set the tone for practice and if they don’t, it’s on them and I make sure they know that. You can tell the program’s getting better as we keep going and just looking forward to what the future brings.”
The Comets are led by a versatile trio of senior guards. The leading scorer is 5-foot-8 McKenzie Cooper, who averaged 13.5 points per game, 5.6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2.3 steals. Jeanie Crabtree is a 5-7 defensive disruptor and offensive distributor. She was the area leader in steals at 5.4 a game and added 8.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists. And 5-7 Lexi James added 9.1 ppg and 2.5 rpg. Crabtree and Cooper were both on the Tribune’s All-Area squad as third-team selections.
Supporting that core are 5-8 senior forward Kaylee Weeks (5.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg), 5-7 junior forward Rylie Davison (2.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg), 5-9 sophomore forward Lily Strunk (2.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg), 5-10 sophomore forward Kara Otto (1.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg), 5-6 junior guard Addison Budde (1.5 rpg), 5-9 senior forward Brooklyn Smith (1.2 rpg), 5-9 sophomore forward Jacey Richmond, and 5-5 senior guard/forward Leah Springer
Moving into roles are 5-3 senior guard Chey Lybrook and 5-8 freshman forward Macy Coan.
Steele said the team will play similarly to last season’s squad.
“We can spread out the offense, use our athleticism to get to the rim,” he said. “We’ve got some shooters this year. And then we’ve also kind of thrown in some more inside stuff that we can use against smaller lineups as well.
“Defensively, when you have someone who’s aggressive like Jeanie Crabtree, you can do more with her fullcourt. We’ll throw in some stuff like that, and we also can play a half-court series as well.”
Cooper hit 43 3-pointers last season.
The new season starts Tuesday at Cass.
“I think the seniors are kind of realizing, ‘Hey, this is our last go-around, we have to do everything we can,’” Steele said. “The day I took the job [I remember] talking to them about how we have to build this program up, we have to do the right stuff to be successful and they’ve really bought into my philosophy as a coach.”
Steele said that getting experience for the current juniors and sophomores has made for a stronger mix this year.
“Kara Otto and Lily Strunk have exceeded my expectations of where they would be now,” he said of the sophomores. “They put in outstanding effort to get better. The juniors, Rylie and Budde, they’re progressing as well. It’s exciting for me to watch these players playing again and to be more confident in them than I was last year. Last year they didn’t have a lot of experience and I had to throw them in the deep end.
“This summer we played a lot of good teams and they held their own, so I think we’ve got a lot of good things coming this season.”
With so much experience, the Comets expect to be better. They’ll need to grow this season to tackle moving up to Class 3A. The Comets now play in a sectional with Bellmont, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Heritage, Mississinewa, Norwell and 2019 Class 2A state champ Oak Hill.
Eastern was 10-15 in Steele’s first season before moving above .500 last season.
“This time last year, if you told me we were going to finish 12-10 I wouldn’t have thought that. There’s no way,” he said. “The juniors did a great job. I told them to be patient with the younger group. Now it’s time to step up your game a little bit. We’re looking to compete better in our conference, compete in sectionals as well and keep building that win total.”