Despite losing his top four guards from last year's 14-9 team to graduation and having concerns about his squad's ability to rebound, Bexley High School boys basketball coach Dave Gustin is optimistic about this season.
"I am looking at the glass as half full," said Gustin, who is in his 10th season. "The fun thing about this team is that they will get better as the season goes along. It's their potential."
Leading the way for the Lions is 6-foot-2 senior forward Sam Nolan. He was second-team all-MSL-Ohio Division and honorable mention all-district in Division II last season, during which he averaged 15 points.
Nolan scored a team-high 22 points, including four 3-pointers, in an opening 74-63 loss Nov. 30 to defending Division II state champion Watterson.
"Sam Nolan is going to be a big part of the offense, there is no doubt," Gustin said. "He is a very hard worker and it is great when your best player is your hardest worker."
Nolan, who has received interest from several Division III colleges, is joined in the frontcourt by senior Marshall Drewry (5-11) and junior Drew Elliott (6-3). Gustin said Drewry is a physical defender, while Elliott can shoot from 3-point range and stretch the opponent's defense.
Junior Niejel Young, who scored 13 points against Watterson, has taken over at point guard, while junior Drew Esposito (5-11) is the other backcourt starter.
Depending on their opponent, Gustin said the Lions also could go with a bigger lineup with junior forward Taylor Walker (6-2), who plays with his back to the basket. Gustin said the Lions will look to push the ball up the floor and play man-to-man defense.
Coming off the bench is junior guard Adam Hirsch (5-10), who Gustin said is a strong defender. Hirsch also was a standout for the boys soccer team this fall and the kicker for the football team.
Sophomore guard Cole Heilman (5-10), another top soccer player, is out with a hamstring injury but Gustin is hopeful he can return.
Junior Andre Stewart (5-10), who was Bexley's starting quarterback, and junior Anders Pedon (6-2) round out the roster.
The progression of Bexley's guards will be a key to the season as the Lions look to fill the backcourt void left by Ethan Knisley (11 points per game), Josh Hoffman (9 ppg), Tyler Kondracke (8 ppg) and Patrick McClendon (9 ppg). Knisley, a first-team all-league selection, also led the Lions in assists and rebounding a year ago.
"We only have three players back from last year that played significantly and we have zero guards back," Gustin said. "Rebounding would be the top concern, and how quick our guards will develop."
"Our bigs are undersized and I think the concept that could be successful is if they can just box out and grab a few (rebounds)," he said. "But our guards are actually great rebounders and our guards and forwards can clean it up from there."
The Lions, who last won a league title in 2010, will compete in the MSL-Ohio with fellow holdovers Columbus Academy and Whitehall and new members Grandview, London, Madison Plains, West Jefferson and Worthington Christian. Heath, Granville, Lakewood, Licking Valley and Newark Catholic moved to the Licking County League.
Bexley was fourth (8-6) in the league last year behind Newark Catholic (13-1), Academy (11-3) and Granville (11-3). The Lions begin league play Friday, Dec. 13, at Academy.
"I definitely think we can compete and win our league," Gustin said. "I look forward to coaching this group, very much so. They are a very good group of kids."
Bexley ended last season with a 61-55 loss to Mifflin in the first round of the district tournament.
"If we bring the effort that we brought against Watterson to every game and practice, I think we will have a chance to be very successful," Nolan said. "We fully believe we can compete in the league and that we can win a league title, but it is not going to be easy. There are some very good teams.
"If we can continue to be focused then we feel that we can compete in the league and in the district. By February, we will be much better than we are now."
Girls basketball team opens with loss
The girls basketball team opened Nov. 26 with a 51-36 loss to visiting Licking Heights.
Freshman Brie Toney scored eight points to lead the Lions, who trailed 20-13 at halftime.
Bexley's second game was scheduled to be against league-foe West Jefferson on Nov. 30, but that contest has been rescheduled for Dec. 17.
The Lions played Big Walnut on Dec. 3 and now open league play Friday, Dec. 6, against visiting Academy.
Volleyball coach announces honors
Girls volleyball coach Edward Cruz, whose team went 12-12 this fall, recently announced the squad's postseason awards.
Senior Taylor Simmons received the Sportsmanship award, senior Kayleigh Dietz was named Most Improved and juniors Mary Massarelli and Olivia Riley shared the Most Valuable Player honor.