Talawanda basketball teams enter postseason after historic seasons

By Jack Mueller

On Highway 27, south of Talawanda High School,  there is a new addition to the billboards that often promote restaurants or new business ventures in the area. This one stands out from the rest as it celebrates the recent success of two Brave basketball teams.

“It’s great, that’s what a small town does … they get behind you, they report scores, they come to games.” said Mary Jo Huismann, coach of the undefeated Talawanda girls basketball team.

The recognition from the community is well deserved. The Talawanda girls and boys basketball programs had remarkable seasons. The girls team is working to add to its perfect 22-0 record as it meets Milford High School Feb. 16 in the second round of the state tournament. The Brave won its postseason opener against Turpin High School 61-40 Feb. 11. 

The girls program, ranked fifth in the state, is nothing short of dominant. The margin between their average points scored and points allowed stands at +25 (61 ppg, 35.4 ppg). Much of the team’s success stems from the senior leadership from its two college-bound stars: Kylee Fears and Taylor Farris. 

“They are totally controlling the mood and the atmosphere … and they compliment each other so well.” Huismann said of the duo. Fears (committed to Merrimack College) has been a scoring contributor for Talawanda since freshman year while leading the Southwest Ohio Conference (SWOC) this year in rebounds per game (15.5) and is second in scoring per game (20.5). Alongside Fears, Farris (committed to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville) is the “perfect point guard” in coach Huismann’s eyes, averaging 16 points per game, shooting 44% from three point range and adding 4.5 assists per outing. 

The boys program held its own as well, ending the 2023 regular season with a SWOC title and its best record since 2009. The 15-7 record (7-3 in SWOC) is the result of hard work and determination that started months before the student body returned to school.

 “In the month of June, we went and practiced and prepared as a team. (Each team is allowed 10 summer days to practice) We got our offense and defense down … the guys got better at basketball and better as a team.” said Connor Roberts, coach of the Talawanda boys basketball team regarding their turnaround from a 2-8 last place finish in 2022 to a conference championship. 

The hard work paid off, as the Brave can boast a prolific offense. Talawanda scored 55 points per game in the regular season, good enough for first in the SWOC, while also shaving nine points off of their points allowed average on defense. Coach Roberts said the success that has come this year has been a “pleasant surprise.” 

Surprise or not, the Brave enter postseason play Feb. 16 against Hamilton, a school three times its size, yet Coach Roberts still sees this as a winnable game thanks to three key contributors for the Brave. Logan Smith (6’4 Sr.) is a force to be reckoned with, scoring 14 points per game (#2 in SWOC) and adding 12 rebounds (#1 in SWOC). Complementing Smith is a pair of underclassmen guards, Isaiah Meade-Moss and Cale Leitch. They have been crucial to the turnaround of the team, despite neither seeing much varsity action.

“They stepped up with a lot of confidence, they’ve gotten better as the season’s gone on… they both knock down the three at a high level and defend at a high level.” 

Going into the season, Coach Roberts gave his team three tasks. First was to have a winning record, check. The second was to win the SWOC title, check. Third…“Win one game in the playoffs, and we will find out tomorrow night if we can accomplish all three.”