Canal Winchester High School girls basketball coach Gary Burke said his team was much more competitive last season than it was the previous year even though the Indians finished 5-16 both seasons.
Given the players' commitment to improving during the offseason, he is optimistic that their improvement will be reflected in their record this season.
Canal Winchester opened Nov. 24 with a 59-36 loss to Worthington Christian and played Westerville South on Nov. 27. The Indians begin MSL-Buckeye Division play Saturday, Dec. 1, at Logan Elm.
"The kids worked hard and had a good summer and we've looked good in our scrimmages," said Burke, who is in his third season.
"But scrimmages don't count on your record and we aren't looking for moral victories this year, we're looking for wins.
"Last year we learned how to compete and this year we need to learn how to win. We're looking to win a couple of games early because I think that will breed the kind of confidence we need to keep on winning."
One of the biggest reasons Burke is encouraged about the season is the return of five players who started multiple games last season. Those players are senior point guard Kaleigh Whitlatch, senior guard Marci Browning, senior post player Sarah Miles, sophomore forward Raven Hamilton and sophomore guard Taylor Thompson.
Whitlatch led the team in scoring last season, averaging 9.6 points. Rounding out the team's top six scorers were 2012 graduate Carrie Strawser (9.4), 2012 graduate Katie Hahn (5.8), Miles (5.8), Thompson (5.0) and Hamilton (4.7). Whitlatch also averaged six rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Rounding out the roster are senior Maygan Beeler (guard), juniors Hannah Landis (post player), Madison Smerdell (guard) and Jade Smith (guard), sophomores Abigail Brinker (post player) and Haley Webster (guard) and freshmen Kaylee Guiler (guard), Marina Rarrick (post player) and Noelle Sager (post player).
Against Worthington Christian, Hamilton had 11 points and Miles scored 10.
"We're more experienced and we're physically and mentally better this year," Whitlatch said. "We're working together a lot better than last year's team did, and when we trap, we know what to do and where we need to be. Our guards are really fast and we're playing at a way faster pace now."
Canal Winchester went 4-10 in the MSL-Buckeye last season to place sixth, behind Fairfield Union (13-1), Logan Elm (12-2), Teays Valley (11-3), Bloom-Carroll (7-7) and Amanda-Clearcreek (5-9) and ahead of Hamilton Township (2-12) and Circleville (2-12).
The Indians competed in the Division I district tournament for the first time a year ago, losing in the first round to sixth-seeded Gahanna 74-32.
"The MSL-Buckeye is going to be tough," Burke said. "Fairfield Union has virtually everyone back from its league championship team and Logan Elm has most of its team back, too. Teays Valley, Amanda-Clearcreek and Hamilton Township are going to be better than they were last year, too.
"All of that means we'll need to show a lot of improvement to beat those teams. We do have some size and we're quicker, more experienced and more athletic (than last season). We look good, but until we prove that we've improved on the floor, we'll be stuck in the same boat."