A fourth-year starter who averaged 9.4 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds per game last year, Dean finished only behind fellow returners Chance Gray and Kailyn Dudukovich in scoring. Two other seniors are on the roster this season — forwards Stella Lukusa and Kylie Zurlinden – but most everyone else has limited or no varsity experience, so Dean feels an added sense of responsibility to take charge as more of a leader and scorer this year.
“I’m just working on being sharp, being more of a vocal leader and a scorer,” Dean said. “I have full confidence in my teammates, but we’re so young, we’re going to have to build up confidence, and that’s why I need to focus on being more talkative, to help get them through tough situations so we can keep the standard of West going.”
During Dean’s first three seasons, the Firebirds have posted a 72-9 record with two trips to the regional championship.
Fishman said he didn’t realize how big of a contributor Dean would end up being when she made the varsity team as a freshman, but he quickly found out she could handle whatever he asked of her. She started the opener that season and remained in the starting lineup for 22 of 27 games, including a regional final loss to Mason.
Dean has been a mainstay ever since, and Fishman, who is in his 24th season as West’s head coach, has enjoyed seeing her progress over the years, especially as she prepares for her final high school season.
“Her ball handling has improved to where you will see she will rebound and push the dribble a little as opposed to just looking for the outlet,” Fishman said. “She will show improved leadership, being vocal, communicating with teammates and finishing around the basket. Her stamina is another big difference. She’s in really good shape, and I think that’s going to really help her take her game to another level this year.”
Dean said there is a little “pressure” that comes with being a leader of a program like West and having the desire to continue a winning tradition, but she and her teammates are capable of “powering through that together.”
“We’re just expecting like every year to get better as a team and as individuals on and off the floor,” Dean said. “We face some tough opponents early on, but we’re up to that challenge. Our team is young, but that just gives us more energy. We just have to leave it all on the floor and keep fighting through whatever comes our way.”
Dean also has the reminder of two close losses in the regional finals her freshman and sophomore seasons motivating her. Getting to state remains a goal but not yet the focal point. West has been to the Final Four three times, including a lone title run in 2015.
“It’s a goal for sure, but we’ve got to achieve a lot of other goals first,” Dean said. “We just have to take baby steps and make sure we’re playing our best at the end of the season.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Olivia Wells-Daniels, Middletown senior forward
Jordan Rogers, Franklin senior guard
Chance Gray, Lakota West sophomore guard
Kenzi Saunders, Madison senior guard
Anna Cardwell, Hamilton senior guard
Callie Hunt, Edgewood junior forward
Kyra Koontz, Talawanda senior forward
Samill Calhoun, Middletown senior guard