The Bexley High School girls basketball team will have a different look this season.
It begins with first-year coach John Callahan, a rookie varsity head coach who had been an assistant boys basketball coach at Hartley. He replaced four-year coach Jim Strode, who left last April to become the girls coach at Worthington Kilbourne.
Callahan inherits a team that finished 10-13 overall last winter and went 6-8 in the MSL-Ohio Division to finish fifth behind champion Newark Catholic (14-0). Bexley lost its Division II district tournament opener, falling to Brookhaven 40-37 in a second-round game.
The Lions opened Nov. 26 against visiting Licking Heights.
"Our No. 1 goal is to win the league and if we achieve that, then great. If we don't, it won't be for a lack of effort," Callahan said. "I constantly preach to the girls that one thing we can control is our effort and they are buying into that.
"I know we are going to stumble at times, but we are going to get better."
Sidney Woodford, a 5-foot-3 point guard, is being counted on to provide leadership as the Lions' only senior. Also returning to the starting lineup is 6-3 junior center Elise Torrence.
Bexley will run a triangle offense, as Callahan looks to replace the scoring punch of 2013 graduates Lydia Lake (12.6 points per game) and Briana Stewart (11.1 ppg).
"We're going to look to score by committee," Callahan said. "We're looking to have four to five girls averaging about eight to 10 points per game."
At the top of that list is Torrence.
"We are going to try and get the ball into Elise as much as we can," Callahan said. "We are looking for her to control the boards and control the lane for us.
"That is what I'd like to see is a double-double from Elise. She has worked hard over the summer and I am hoping that translates into a big season for her."
On defense, the Lions will focus more on a half-court approach instead of the full-court pressure they have used in recent seasons.
"One of the biggest changes for the girls is going from a pressure full-court type of defense to more of a contain defense in the half court," said Callahan, who plans to have the Lions play primarily man-to-man defense while mixing in some matchup zone. "We're not going to be a team that is going to go out and score 60 to 70 points. We're going to be one of those teams who plays tough defense and forces the other team to take contested shots.
"Our offense will come from our defense a lot of times."
Callahan was expecting junior Mary Massarelli (5-11) and sophomore Meredith Schwager (5-9), both forwards, and junior guard Olivia Riley (5-7) to round out the starting lineup. The Lions also have height coming off the bench in 6-1 sophomore center Mahalie Sharp and 6-0 freshman forward/center Brie Toney. The Barno sisters, junior Abby (5-6) and sophomore Ashley (5-6), will add depth to the backcourt along with junior Sophie Schottenstein (5-6) and freshman Olivia Anderson (5-6).
In the postseason, Bexley will compete in Division III this winter instead of Division II.
The MSL-Ohio also has a new look, as Bexley, Columbus Academy and Whitehall have been joined by Grandview, London, Madison Plains, West Jefferson and Worthington Christian. Heath, Granville, Lakewood, Licking Valley and Newark Catholic moved to the Licking County League.
The Lions begin league play Saturday, Nov. 30, at West Jefferson.
"I think we can be one of the top teams in our league, I truly believe that," Callahan said. "We are young, but we have great leadership with (Woodford). We have some good players back and a great group of underclassmen.
"Madison Plains and West Jefferson are both very good and if we can continue to improve we can be competitive."
Callahan said he eventually would like to recapture the program's past success, which included 18 league titles and six district championships in a 25-season span from 1984-2008. But for now, he'll be happy with seeing improvement every day.