By winning its first six games, with the first five away from home, the Bexley High School boys basketball team surely has been among the area's early season surprises.
The schedule worked out that way not only because of how the first two MSL-Ohio Division contests fell, but also because of the addition of two more regular-season games, which enabled coach Dave Gustin to schedule a tip-off tournament at London.
"It's a great start," Gustin said. "It wasn't as much of a grind as we thought. Of course, when you're winning, nothing is. I really think the kids handled it well. We've had to pull games off at the end."
The Lions, who went 7-15 a year ago, defeated Ready (48-44 on Nov. 30) and Yellow Springs (72-56 on Dec. 1) in the London Tip-Off Classic before winning at Circleville 51-29 on Dec. 4.
Bexley then opened league play with road wins over Licking Valley (55-48 on Dec. 8) and Lakewood (60-47 on Dec. 11) before beating Heath 60-36 in its home opener Dec. 14 in another league game.
Through five games, five players were averaging at least seven points in junior Sam Nolan (16.2), senior Will Gingery (10.4), sophomore Drew Elliott (8.8), senior Ethan Knisley (7.6) and senior Josh Hoffman (7.0).
"It's a different guy (leading the way) every night for us," Gustin said. "(Against Lakewood) we had four in double figures (as Gingery and Knisley scored 13 points apiece and Hoffman and Nolan both had 11 points). It will be someone different every game and that's the fun of this."
The ability of the Lions' guards to get into the paint has created open shots for Nolan and others.
"(The penetration) is leaving some of our perimeter guys open," Gustin said. "Nolan's able to catch and shoot quite successfully. Teams will pick up on that, and they have already, but he's able to score inside as well."
Any fears of not being able to handle another team's size were quelled in the first five games, but Gustin knows challenges loom.
"We have to negate the fact we don't have height, and we're trying to guard people away from the basket as well as we can and trying to keep people out of their offense," he said. "We're trying to do different things with different teams as far as guarding their bigs. We have some teams coming up that have pretty impressive bigs inside."
Gustin will juggle practice time with time away from the court for his players over the holiday break.
"Basically, once the holidays hit, we have some home games, which helps," he said. "You just get them in a couple hours to do some things. The good thing is you get some good video time over the holidays.
"We'll give them a day off here or there, and it really isn't much of a problem. The kids stay focused and we give them some time away."
Girls basketball team looks for consistency
Following a 46-17 loss at Hartley on Dec. 3, girls basketball coach Jim Strode felt like his team had lost its edge.
"We're fighting to find consistency, there's no question there," he said. "The Hartley game sort of took the wind out of our sails a bit. We couldn't find anything offensively."
The trend continued in a 33-31 loss at Heath on Dec. 7.
"We took 17 more shots than (Heath) did and couldn't find the bucket," Strode said.
Bexley bounced back with a 67-29 home win over Lakewood on Dec. 11.
One key to the improvement on offense was the play of senior Lydia Lake, who was moved from point guard to shooting guard and scored 14 points against Lakewood, while senior Bri Stewart had 19.
Lake was averaging 12 points and Stewart was averaging 10 through five games.
Strode's goal is to make sure each player on the floor knows her job.
"We've defined roles with our kids in terms of who is a shooter and who is a scorer," he said. "Bri is a scorer. She goes hard to the hoop. With her in transition, if I were a defender, I'd be scared. She's going hard, she's coming at you and she's coming hard to the hoop. She's just going to score.
"Having her as a scorer, and having Lydia as a shooter, has helped success come."
Junior Sidney Woodford had shot a team-best 44 percent from the field through five games. She scored 11 points in a 58-48 win at Licking Heights in the opener Nov. 27.
"She hasn't taken a shot outside of the blocks," Strode said. "She's 5-foot-1 and she finds a way to rebound the ball. She has a knack for finding the ball and putting it up there."