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Athenians’ buy-in the difference in 2021

Jesse Hall’s leadership, Ian Hensley’s confidence, and Nate Schroeter’s health has helped return Crawfordsville boys’ basketball to sectional title contenders.

It doesn’t hurt that senior Ty Lynas has improved his scoring average by nearly seven points per game from his junior season and overall the Athenians are averaging 68 points per game this season compared to 61 last year.

In 2019 Hall and the Athenians came within a basket of winning just Crawfordsville’s second IHSAA Sectional Title since 1989, but fell back into mediocrity with a 13-11 season in 2019-20 and an early exit in the state tournament.

Crawfordsville is 12-6 heading into sectional play this week at Frankfort. They know they belong with Danville and Greencastle as the sectional’s top competitors and the difference from last season to this year is they all believe it.

“I feel like last year we weren’t as close,” Hall said. “Losing a couple of guys just before the season started or throughout the season. It took us a minute to regroup and get back to playing the way we were suppose to play. This year we’ve had everybody the entire time and we’ve all been able to grow together. The chemistry has been much better and it’s more exciting.”

Hall, who broke into the 1,000-point club earlier this season, has improved his scoring average from 15.7 per game as a junior to 19.2 this season, but the biggest difference has been his vocal leadership.

As a sophomore he was surrounded by strong leaders, last season the Athenians had a leadership void, but this season Hall has rallied his teammates together and they’re all working for the same goal — a sectional championship.

“It’s definitely been a work in progress, especially the last couple of years,” Hall said of his leadership. “Two years ago we had great leaders, so I didn’t have to be as vocal, and I could just play my game, and last year was kind of the same thing. This year it’s still been a work in progress, but it’s helped because it’s not like we need just one person or just had one guy, it’s everybody at different times. We all work together and lead each other to success.”

Just before the 2019-20 season began, the Athenians learned they would be without one of their returning guards. It was a sudden change and ultimately threw Hensley into a starting role as just a sophomore.

And he will be the first one to admit that he wasn’t fully ready.

“Last year at the start of the year, I was scared to death, I’m not going to lie,” Hensley said. “Coming in as a sophomore starting varsity I was scared and just over the year I got more confidence, and then coming into this year I knew what I had to do to make the team better and be the guy who pushed everyone and got everyone going at different times.”

Hensley’s scoring average has dipped slightly as a junior, but he’s averaging 2.5 more assists per game and 1.7 more rebounds per game. He also thinks the COVID-19 pandemic that canceled 2020 summer workouts was a silver-lining for the Athenians success this season.

“Even though we weren’t all together, I could trust everyone to go to the gym whenever they could and get their work in by themselves, so that when we all could come together, everyone was ready to go and get after it as a team and grow from there,” Hensley added.

Another missing piece during the 2019-20 season was Schroeter — who played in just 10 games due to surgery to fix an injured right wrist so he would be healthy for his senior football and basketball seasons. Another silver-lining.

“It was hard to watch for sure,” Schroeter said about missing time last season. “I love playing basketball with these guys, and being out sucks. With my injury it sucked in the moment, but I think it became a good thing. Like my left hand has become a lot better just by sitting around at practice not being able to use my right.”

Crawfordsville opens sectional play on Wednesday at Frankfort against Danville — the defending sectional champions — and a team they lost to 84-73 in February.

Last season the Athenians had no business being in the conversation to win the sectional, losing to Danville 84-62 in the semifinals, but this year is different.

The bottom line is Hall remembers the pain from the sectional final loss to Greencastle in 2019, but he also remembers what it took to get there. And the difference from last season to this year is he’s made sure his teammates all know what it takes to succeed in March as well.

“Being one of the only guys that played sophomore year and get the experience,” Hall said. “I know what it takes this year having more offensive threats and defensive threats helps and give us more confidence, especially already knowing what it takes to get there and hopefully we follow through this time.”

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