The Canal Winchester High School girls basketball team struggled mightily with turnovers when faced with defensive pressure last season en route to finishing 5-16 overall.

The Canal Winchester High School girls basketball team struggled mightily with turnovers when faced with defensive pressure last season en route to finishing 5-16 overall.

But 5-foot-8 junior point guard Kaleigh Whitlatch believes the Indians have turned what used to be their biggest weakness into a strength this season.

Canal Winchester opens Saturday, Nov. 26, at home against Worthington Christian before beginning MSL-Buckeye Division play Dec. 3 at home against Bloom-Carroll.

"We've worked really hard on turning ourselves into a fast team," Whitlatch said. "Last year, we were more of a post team, and we slowed down and sometimes panicked when teams pressed us. This year, we want to outrun teams when they press us, and we've been able to do that in scrimmages. (Division III state runner-up Cincinnati) Oak Hill pressed us a lot in a scrimmage (Nov. 16) and we sprinted with them and hung with them the whole game. We surprised ourselves by playing even with them, and now we believe we can hang with anyone."

Whitlatch and 5-7 senior guard Katie Hahn are the Indians' only returning starters, but 5-6 senior guard Carrie Strawser, 5-2 junior guard Marci Browning and 6-0 junior post player Sarah Miles are returning letterwinners as well.

Rounding out the team are 5-10 junior post players Jazlyn McClellan and Gabrielle Starcher, 5-5 junior guard Megan Beeler, 5-9 junior forward Brianna Meinhart, 5-4 sophomore guard Fleetwood Carter, 5-9 freshman forward Raven Hamilton and 5-6 freshman guard Taylor Thompson.

"The girls worked hard and made a lot of strides during the offseason, and they're really starting to believe in themselves," second-year coach Gary Burke said. "We're pretty quick and we have adequate size, but we need to be much better defensively and we've got to handle pressure and score when we have the ball."

The Indians went 2-12 in the MSL-Buckeye last season to finish seventh, behind champion Teays Valley (13-1).

Canal Winchester then opened the Division II district tournament with a 56-26 loss to second-seeded Eastmoor Academy in the second round. The Indians will compete in Division I this season.

"We surprised ourselves with how well we played in our scrimmages, so I think we'll do a lot better in our league and in the tournament and we'll have a great season," Whitlatch said.