Girls basketball: Legacy Christian thriving despite lack of numbers, lack of size

If you didn’t know Legacy Christian’s record in girls basketball the past few seasons, you wouldn’t expect much from them when they come out for pregame warmups. There’s only seven of them — often only six when one is injured or sick.

“Sometimes we get overlooked because or our lack of numbers and lack of size,” said Maddy Combs, the team’s only senior. “We always come out ready to play knowing that we’re better than the teams think that we are.”

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The Knights are one of the best Division IV teams in the Southwest District. They are 18-3, a No. 2 seed, have won 14 straight and defeated Cincinnati Christian 61-29 Tuesday night in a second-round tournament game at Monroe High School. Last year the Knights had 10 players and finished 24-3 after a regional semifinal loss to Fort Loramie.

If you watched the Knights practice, you might come away with the same impression. It’s difficult to replicate game situations. Coach Mark Combs sees the result of that at times when his team goes through stages of not executing its offense well.

“When you’re playing ghost men and you’re trying to execute, where are they going to be, how much pressure are the going to put on, where am I going to set the screen?” he said. “All those things become concepts you talk about, but it’s really hard to actually teach. So we can work on two-on-two on a side, we can work on three-on-three on a side, but as far as the continuity of five on five it’s really, really difficult. And sometimes I see it in the way we execute.”

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During the game, no matter how good the opponent is, players get tired. Combs brings two freshmen off the bench to give them breaks, but Tuesday he only had one because starter Katie Leach was sick.

“Sometimes it might be hard for us to go 100 percent all the time because we know we don’t have subs, but we really try to do that as much as we can,” said junior Emma Hess, the team’s leading scorer at 20 points a game. “And he’ll get us a break if we really need one.”

Fortunately, five of the players have been together for a while. Maddy Combs is the senior leader. Hess, Leach, Kathleen Ahner and Margaret Kensinger are juniors. They’ve played a lot of basketball and are used to logging a lot of minutes.

“Preparation’s hard, playing’s hard, but we’re fortunate,” Mark Combs said. “Our kids have been troopers. They play really hard, they play smart and we try to stay out of foul trouble.”

The player who keeps them focused during the game is Maddy Combs, the coach’s daughter. She hears everything her dad says about basketball that her teammates don’t hear. She has grown up in the gym. Her dad says most players see only the next move like in checkers, but she sees two or three moves ahead like chess.

“Maddy plays a huge part for our team,” Hess said. “She’s definitely the biggest leader that we have and she makes sure we all stay together. She knows every spot on every play even if she’ll never play there.”

Combs doesn’t score much, but she is efficient. She leads the team with over 100 assists and has fewer than 30 turnovers.

“I just get a lot of joy in seeing my teammates have success in shooting the ball,” she said. “They make it, so I give it to them.”

Legacy’s next game is at 6 p.m. Monday against No. 5 seed Felicity Franklin at Monroe. To get back to regionals a matchup with traditional power Tri-Village looms in the district final. The Patriots are the top seed in the Brookville sectional. If the Knights advance, Fort Loramie, the No. 1 seed at Sidney, could be next. The region also has other top teams in Franklin Monroe, Cincinnati Country Day and Mechanicsburg.

“There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide,” Mark Combs said. “Eventually you’re going to play someone that’s really, really good.”

Along the way the Knights’ No. 1 job is to stay healthy. If they do, the coach is confident.

“We have to shoot the ball well, and the good thing for us is we really can do that,” Mark Combs said. “The bad thing for any team that counts on shooting is you can really have off nights. But I like this group.”

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