CHARLOTTESVILLE — Eastern Hancock girls basketball coach Shari Doud knew she had a good one coming through the school system, but she was going to have to wait a bit before she got to be a part of her high school program.

Eastern Hancock freshman point guard Kenzie Koch, the Daily Reporter Hancock County Girls Basketball Athlete of the Year, caught the coach’s eye at a young age at one of her basketball camps.

“When she was in second grade,” Doud answered when asked when she knew Koch would be a special player.

It was the summer prior to Koch’s second grade year. She was signing up for youth camp and Koch’s mom asked the coach if her highly-skilled daughter could move up and play with the older kids.

Doud said she doesn’t like bumping kids up but reluctantly agreed.

“I didn’t know the Kochs or Kenzie Koch,” Doud said. “I don’t really like to get that started because everyone is going to want to move their kid up or move their kid back.

“The very first day of camp we started our ball-handling drills and, ‘Oh, my Lord!’ I thought no wonder she wanted to move her up. She was amazing. She was a second grader competing with fourth and fifth graders. She showed up with her little headband on and her wristbands on and that girl could play. I knew then she was going to be very special.”

The wait was well worth it.

Koch came in this season to replace graduated point guard Grace Stapleton, one of the program’s all-time great players who had just helped lead the program to its first-ever regional championship and berth into the semi-state.

Those were big shoes to fill, but Koch proved to be a great fit for a great team.

The 5-8 guard averaged a county-best 18.4 points per game, grabbed 4.6 rebounds from her point guard spot and added 2.9 assists and 2.8 steals per game.

She was named to the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association Underclassmen Small School All-State team, along with being selected All-Mid-Eastern Conference. She was also selected to be a part of the Indiana All-Stars “Futures Games” in June.

In just her second high school game, Koch recorded a season-best 28 points and added eight rebounds and five assists in a victory over Rushville. In Game 3 against tournament-rival Triton Central, Koch had 20 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots.

It was a great early-season sign that the Royals had a chance to equal or better what they did the previous season.

With that veteran group, Koch and Company went 25-2, setting a school record for wins. They won a second straight regional title and reached the Class 2A Final Four, the semi-state championship game.

“I was definitely nervous, especially going to high school knowing they went very far last year, but the five seniors were very welcoming,” Koch said of transitioning to a veteran team as its new point guard. “They’re easy to play with, even though it was a rough start. They just made everything fun and didn’t make it hard to do, they made it fun for me. I was really glad they welcomed me even though Grace (Stapleton) was such a good point guard and shooter and playmaker for the team.”

That was a big concern for Koch and the coach on how a team with five seniors would react to the new kid on the block. It helped that the Eastern Hancock school district is a small-town community.

The middle school and high school are connected so sixth graders are going through the high school everyday.

The high schoolers new Koch from either the hallways of EHHS or from being good friends with Kenzie’s older sisters.

“(The) clicking started with the personal stuff, clicking as friends, getting closer,” Koch said. “If you’re not friends, or close to them, it’s hard. In the summer we did workouts, would have breakfast, hang out or go to the pool. Getting that connection first before the school season started, it made it a lot easier to click and for us to get better.”

“It was a concern going in just from the stand of flow and chemistry,” Doud said of Koch coming in to play with her veteran varsity group. “They’d played three years with the same point guard. That was a concern getting that piece to mesh together. It took a little bit through the season. The nice part about that was I had a group of girls that knew how talented Kenzie is and how much better she was going to make our team in terms as getting as deep in the tournament as we could get.

“Everybody embraced that from the get-go, players and coaches. Things just started to fall in place.”

They figured it out, winning the first 14 games before a loss to Class 4A power Lawrence North in the Wildcats’ holiday tournament. They ran off 11 more wins right after that, which included an overtime victory over Sheridan in the first game of the semi-state.

Koch was a big factor in it, too.

She had turned the ball over enabling the Blackhawks to take the lead with just a few seconds left.

The confident freshman playmaker was determined to atone from her error. With nine seconds left in the game, she went coast-to-coast for a layup to force overtime. The Royals outscored Sheridan 8-0 in the extra session to reach the semi-state title game.

Koch had 17 points and 12 rebounds in the win.

“A fierce competitor, who wanted to be the quarterback on the floor, and did that well,” Doud described the first-year point guard. “There was never any doubt she would show up, ready to compete, whether that meant scoring 28 points or 10 or 12. You could always count on her in every area of the game.

“She’s the type of player that every coach should have the experience of coaching.”