By JOSH SIGLER
Girls athletic programs at Eastern High School have never seen as prosperous times as they currently enjoy.
The basketball program has been a direct benefactor of that trickle-down effect as a result.
Fresh off a 17-5 campaign, the Comets enter the 2012-13 season returning over 80 percent of their scoring from a year ago and hold the No. 7 ranking in Class 2A.
“There’s definitely excitement,” coach Jeremy Dexter said of beginning his fifth season in Greentown. “We have a lot of pieces back and are very excited for what our potential may be this season. So far, the energy in the gym’s been great. The leadership has been very good. We’ve been working on the skills we worked on this summer, just trying to make sure those are honed in and continue to advance. The leadership has been there from Day 1.”
In his stable, Dexter boasts six returning letterwinners who scored roughly 45 of the Comets’ 56 points per game a season ago, as well as several members of the cross country team, which finished in seventh place as a team in the IHSAA State Finals on Oct. 27 in Terre Haute.
Leading the returners is senior guard Brittany Neeley, who needs 56 points to reach the 1,000-point mark for her career. She averaged 18.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last season, and added 98 steals and 93 assists.
Sister Bethany Neeley also returns after nearly averaging a double-double (9.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg) last season. Sophomore post player Taylor Holliday (6.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg) came on strong towards the end of last season, and will look to make a formidable post duo with senior Mercedes Rubow (1.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg). Guards Ally Oyler (4.5 ppg) and Dani Comfort round out the returning letterwinners.
“The luxury as far as from a coaching perspective is they’re coming in really knowing what we want to do and what our basic fundamentals are for every situation,” Dexter said of his veterans. “They’ve been through it all with us, and that’s invaluable. They’re able to help bring along the young kids and be mini-coaches on the floor.”
A pair of freshmen guards, Jessie Sprinkle and Emily Richards, will have a chance to make an immediate impact, while sophomore post Jenny Keith and classmate guards Abby Elkins, Kendall Hensley, Danielle Reed, Sarah Summers and Molly Shephard all have a chance to be in the mix at some point.
Dexter pointed to the improved development of his team’s post presence as a major cornerstone this season, an area that hasn’t been a strongsuit in recent memory.
“Offensively we’ve tended to space the floor out a lot,” Dexter said. “Before Taylor Holliday was a freshman we had a team without much height, so we would space it out. Last year, we were able to develop a post presence with Taylor and Mercedes. Taylor really came on towards the last quarter of last season and gained confidence and experience. This year, with our ability with Bethany and Brittany as slashers, scorers and creators, plus the development of their shots, they’ve made themselves difficult to defend. Taylor has been able to expand her game to the perimeter as well, but is skilled inside, so we feel like we can continue to advance our post game with her and Mercedes.”