In his fourth season as coach of the Canal Winchester High School girls basketball team, Gary Burke feels like everyone in his program finally is on the same page.

In his fourth season as coach of the Canal Winchester High School girls basketball team, Gary Burke feels like everyone in his program finally is on the same page.

The Indians, who finished 10-13 overall last season after going 5-16 each of the previous two seasons, opened Nov. 23 at home against Worthington Christian.

"This team is more cohesive and we're more together as a team than we've been in the past," Burke said. "This is the first group of seniors that I've coached since they were freshmen, so our players are more familiar with our coaching staff and what we're trying to establish.

"When you have a plan or a philosophy, your players have to buy into it. Nobody likes change, but each team has been more receptive to it, and I was pleased with how hard this team worked in the offseason."

The Indians returned two starters in junior forward Raven Hamilton and senior guard Jade Smith. Last season, Hamilton averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds and was named honorable mention all-MSL-Buckeye Division and Smith averaged 5.3 points and 3.2 rebounds.

The other starters are junior point guard Haley Webster, junior shooting guard Taylor Thompson and sophomore post player Marina Rarick. All three are returnees.

Also back are senior post player Hannah Landis, senior guard Madison Smerdell, sophomore guard Kaylee Guiler and sophomore post player Noelle Saeger.

Rounding out the roster are sophomore Rachel Hawkins and freshman Kianna Brooks.

"We've always had decent size, but this group is maybe a little quicker than what we've had in the past," Burke said. "We're making some progress offensively and hopefully our shooting percentage will improve and we'll have less turnovers.

"Basketball is simple. When we're on offense, we can't be robots. We need to read defenses and take what they are giving us and exploit it instead of blindly going through with plays when they break down."

Burke said his team will need to elevate its level of play after moving from the MSL-Buckeye Division to the OCC-Cardinal.

The Indians finished fourth (8-6) in the MSL-Buckeye last year behind champion Fairfield Union (13-1).

Westerville North won the OCC-Cardinal championship last season, going 14-0 to finish ahead of Dublin Jerome (9-5), Dublin Scioto (9-5), Hilliard Bradley (8-6), Westerville Central (7-7), Westerville South (5-9), Hilliard Darby (4-10) and Worthington Kilbourne (0-14).

Canal Winchester replaced Kilbourne, which moved to the OCC-Capital. The Indians open league play Friday, Nov. 29, at Scioto.

"If we're going to compete in the OCC, we need to improve our shooting and rebounding while cutting down on our turnovers," Burke said. "Not to take anything away from the MSL, but the OCC is definitely a step up. Westerville North will be the No. 1 team in our division again, but there's no team that we can look by as a (guaranteed) win.

"It's a numbers game. The rest of the teams in the OCC are picking athletes from a greater number of kids, which normally means they are going to have more quality athletes. We're going to have to play hard to beat any of those teams."