An undersized group that coach Dave Gustin said rarely got outworked by opponents, the Bexley High School boys basketball team finished 14-9 overall and went 8-6 in the MSL-Ohio Division.
The Lions lost in the first round of the postseason, but Gustin lauded his players for their commitment throughout the season.
"This crew is pretty special," he said. "I don't say that every year. We started in September with some conditioning and they haven't wavered. They went hard since September; this didn't start in November.
"I think this group brought an identity of how we have to play in years to come, especially on the defensive end. We were outsized in every game this year."
Bexley's season ended Feb. 23. Seeded 10th, the Lions opened the Division II district tournament at home, but fell 61-55 to 16th-seeded Mifflin.
Senior guard Ethan Knisley and junior guard/forward Sam Nolan helped set the tone this winter for a team that didn't have a regular over 6-foot-3 and often took the court with only one player over 6-0.
"This crew played as hard as any I've ever had in 22 years of coaching," Gustin said. "I hope the younger guys see that and get the idea of what they did, because it was special."
Nolan averaged 15 points while shooting 56.4 percent from the field.
Knisley, one of five seniors, led the team in the regular season in rebounds (111), steals (40) and assists (84).
"Ethan's a three-year player who started some as a sophomore," Gustin said. "He kind of spearheaded this whole thing as far as work ethic and leadership. People looked toward him all year."
Knisley was first-team all-league and Nolan was on the second team. Both were named honorable mention all-district.
In addition to Nolan, other key players expected to return are junior forward Marshall Drewry, sophomore forward Drew Elliott and junior center Gabe Rodriguez.
The Lions finished fourth in the MSL-Ohio behind Newark Catholic (13-1), Columbus Academy (11-3) and Granville (11-3) and ahead of Whitehall (6-8), Licking Valley (3-11), Lakewood (2-12) and Heath (2-12).
Bexley twice played Granville to within two points, losing 52-50 on Jan. 4 and 50-48 on Feb. 5.
The Lions' best effort may have come in the regular-season finale at home against Academy on Feb. 15, when they topped the Vikings 55-47.
Bexley also played Newark Catholic close on Feb. 12, losing 49-48 at home 11 days after losing 52-34 to the Green Wave on the road.
Wrestling team was short on numbers
The wrestling team featured just seven competitors by the end of the season, meaning the Lions weren't able to fill half of the weight classes in tournaments or dual matches.
Bexley had just a pair of returnees in juniors Daniel Lee (220 pounds) and Sam Shorr (120), and both missed significant time because of injuries.
Junior Craig Music (heavyweight) is expected to return with Lee and Shorr, as are freshmen Dylan Cramer (145), John Hartshorne (138), John O'Toole (120/126) and Jonah Stuber (126/132).
Shorr advanced to his second consecutive district tournament by placing third in a Division II sectional Feb. 16 at Licking Heights, where the Lions finished 12th (36 points) of 13 teams behind champion Whitehall (265.5).
In the district tournament Feb. 22 and 23 at Heath, Shorr fell to Uhrichsville Claymont's Kollin Clark 13-1 in the first round and then lost to Cadiz Harrison Central's David Forrester 10-2. He finished the season with a 13-10 record.
Claymont (182.5) won the district title. Bexley was not among the 42 teams that scored.
"When Sam got back from injury we were already getting ready for the postseason," coach Edward Cruz said. "He understood we couldn't get those six weeks in December and January back, but he worked hard and performed well."
In the MSL-Ohio tournament Feb. 9 at Heath, the Lions were last (96) behind Whitehall (396), Licking Valley (275), Granville (269), Newark Catholic (163), Heath (135), Academy (109) and Lakewood (104). It was Whitehall's first league title since 1968.
Numbers should increase next year for the Lions, considering no one will be lost to graduation and a group of eighth-graders should join the program.
"Everybody's planning on coming back," Cruz said. "We had 10 eighth-graders and we expect to keep most of them.
"That'll put us in the 16 to 18 range, not to mention the fact we had four or five kids in high school this year that didn't wrestle for whatever reason and are talking about coming out next year. That'd be a significant difference from this year."