Lady Titans’ complete turnaround to playoff berth
Mar 06, 2019 03:35PM
● By Josh McFadden
Junior Monet Clough goes to the hoop in traffic in an Olympus game earlier this season against Murray. (Photo by Ed Askew)
By Josh McFadden | [email protected]
In the high school ranks, where in some regions all but one or two teams qualify for the state tournament, it’s not unusual to see a team finish in last place one year and reach the playoffs the next.
But what the Olympus girls basketball team has done this season is beyond ordinary.
Last season, while the Olympus boys marched to an undefeated state title, the girls struggled through a 1-20 campaign. With some determined experienced players joining with talented newcomers, this year’s girls squad qualified for the state tournament — when there were still three games left to play in the season.
The Titans finished the regular season with a 6-4 mark in Region 6 and 12-9 overall. These numbers may not jump off the page at the casual reader, but considering where the team was at the end of last season, it’s a remarkable achievement for head coach Whitney Hunsaker’s group.
Olympus secured the No. 3 playoff seed from Region 6 as the Titans prepare for the Class 5A state tournament, which runs from Feb. 18 to Feb. 23. It’s been an enjoyable ride for Hunsaker and her players, and they’re thankful for the chance to continue their season.
“We are beyond excited,” Hunsaker said. “We have all felt this year has gone by way too fast that we are not ready for it to end. So, we are super excited that we have the opportunity to extend the season a little bit longer and are just really grateful for the opportunity. When you don't get to go, you realize you take that opportunity for granted, so now that we are going, we are just happy we have the opportunity to make the season a little bit longer and continue to develop bonds with one another.”
The season hasn’t been without some challenges. Olympus has found itself on the wrong end of a few lopsided losses. But those occasions have been much fewer than last year when the team took plenty of lumps. Plus, this season, the Titans have been on the winning side of some blowouts, including a 73-52 win over West on Feb. 1 and a 41-20 victory over Highland on Jan. 15.
After starting the season 4-5, the Titans went 8-4 the rest of way in the regular season. In league play, the team has had several contributors.
“Playing as a team has been a big key to success,” Hunsaker said. “Most games, we have a different leading scorer. That has been huge, because if (an opponent tries) to take one of our players out of the game, we have other players that are willing to step up. Being able to have multiple scorers and looking for each other has been a huge part of our success. Also, we have focused on having more pride on the defensive end. We have a goal each game of what we want to hold teams to, and we have done great so far.”
Hunsaker said region has some difficult foes, but she believes the rigorous schedule prepared her girls for state, where they’ll see plenty of skilled players. Still, her approach for state will be identical to the one she took all season.
“I just try to teach the girls that state games are the same as region,” she said. “The sport is the same, and if we try to do things differently than what we do, we won’t go very far. So, our emphasis is to treat it like any other game. We want to focus on one possession at a time and not worry about the outcome until the outcome has actually come.”
No matter what happens at state, Hunsaker is pleased with the girls’ attitudes and mindset and with the hard work they have put in at each game and practice. She’s particularly impressed with her seniors, who have weathered some difficult storms and stayed positive.
“Honestly, I am just so proud of them,” she said. “I have really gained a deep appreciation and a great love for these girls. Obviously, I will love them no matter what, but their work ethic and their focus has been incredible. I just owe them so much for building the program that I wanted to build. They make their teammates better and encourage them to work hard. They have been a huge part to our success this year that I am simply so proud.”