Canal Winchester High School boys basketball coach Kent Riggs knew he had at least two good reasons not to panic when his team started 0-4.
First, he anticipated that it was going to take a handful of games for his newcomers to get used to playing at the varsity level, as the Indians began the season with only four players with varsity experience.
Riggs also knew that his squad had faced four quality opponents, including Reynoldsburg and Bloom-Carroll. Reynoldsburg, which beat the Indians 66-46 on Dec. 4, was ranked ninth in the Division I state poll last week. Bloom-Carroll, which beat the Indians 64-62 on Dec. 8, is the defending MSL-Buckeye Division champion and is among the top Division III teams in central Ohio.
Canal Winchester faced another state-ranked opponent when it lost to Liberty Township Lakota East 68-48 in the Newark Holiday Tournament on Dec. 28. The Thunderhawks were ranked fourth in the Division I state poll last week.
"We knew the start of our season was going to be tough because we played some real good opponents right out of the gate and it was a big jump for the kids who played (junior varsity) last year to move up to play varsity this season," Riggs said. "The good news is the kids never got discouraged by the start we had, and they've continued to work hard to get better all season."
Since losing their first four games, the Indians have won five of eight, including MSL-Buckeye victories over Teays Valley (49-43 on Jan. 4), Hamilton Township (58-52 on Jan. 8) and Fairfield Union (46-43 on Jan. 12).
Against Teays Valley, guard Thomas Nolan and forward Skyler Scott each had 12 points and forward Alex McCoy scored 11. Nolan had a team-high 14 points against Hamilton Township, followed by center Keenan Tate with 13 and forward Seth McCoy with eight. Seth McCoy and Nolan had 14 and 12 points, respectively, against Fairfield Union.
"We've had pretty balanced scoring this year, with a lot of different guys contributing in different games," Riggs said. "Thomas Nolan has done a good job of running the point. Seth McCoy has good offensive moments for us, and (guard) Jalen Smith has had some good nights for us, too."
Riggs said his team's man-to-man defense has improved since the start of the season. After giving up an average of 63.8 points in their first four games, the Indians allowed an average of 51.1 points in their next seven contests.
Guard Daltyn Colley usually is assigned to defend the opponent's best perimeter player, and Riggs is pleased with the defensive effort and rebounding in the front court by Alex McCoy, Scott and Tate.
"Our defense is getting better after we had a tough start against real good competition," Riggs said. "We've steadily decreased the amount of points we're allowing, and some of that has to do with the competition and some of it has to do with the fact that we're playing better defense."
The Indians are looking forward to traveling to Bloom-Carroll on Friday, Jan. 18, for a league rematch.
In their first meeting, Bloom-Carroll guard Isaac McGlone scored 12 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, including consecutive 3-pointers in the final 1 minute, 30 seconds that give the Bulldogs the lead for good. Nolan had 23 points to lead Canal Winchester and Scott scored 13. Guard Joey Schmitz added 14 points for the Bulldogs.
"We played a good game against Bloom-Carroll and took them down to the last minute," Riggs said. "Our effort was good in an intense game, but we need to do a better job defensively the second time around."
Canal Winchester led Bloom-Carroll 41-37 after three quarters but allowed the Bulldogs to score 27 points in the fourth quarter.
"McGlone is going to go to Eastern Kentucky, and both he and Schmitz are very good guards," Riggs said. "We played good basketball for 24 or 25 minutes and then we didn't play very well, and that's been our issue all year.
"Bloom-Carroll puts a lot of pressure on you, both offensively and defensively, and we have to be ready to handle that. We gave up too many easy baskets and we had too many turnovers that resulted in easy points. We need cut down on those mistakes."
Boys swimmers surprise coach
With only three athletes on its roster, the boys swimming and diving team is focusing on individual improvement rather than team success.
Yet, the Indians surprised coach Julie Pastor by their team performance in Grandview's Yule at the Pool on Dec. 29 at Columbus Aquatics Center, scoring 32 points to finish 10th of 13 teams behind champion St. Charles (234).
Wyatt Meade won both the 100-yard breaststroke (1 minute, 7.61 seconds) and 200 individual medley (2:13.02) and Ward Bright finished 15th in both the 50 freestyle (27.68) and 100 free (1:03.29).
"I wasn't expecting much from our team scores," Pastor said. "We're just looking for them to lower their times individually.
"Wyatt's having a good season and Ward dropped six seconds in the 100 free and three seconds in the 50 free, which is great for him."
Girls swim team making progress
The girls swimming and diving team finished ninth (52) in the 14-team Yule at the Pool behind champion Columbus School for Girls (331).
Lexie Meade placed fifth in the 200 IM (2:33.91) and seventh in the 100 backstroke (1:13.33), Devon Shull was seventh in the 500 free (6:38.87) and eighth in the 100 free (1:03.68) and Meade, Shull, Sydney Boyer and Casey Pastor teamed to place eighth in both the 200 medley relay (2:13.85) and 200 free relay (2:01.59).
"We only have nine girls and about half of them don't swim outside of our high school meets, so we're just looking for all of our girls to drop as much time as possible this year," coach Pastor said.