Canal Winchester High School girls basketball coach Gary Burke knew moving from the MSL-Buckeye Division to the OCC-Cardinal would be a challenging transition for his team.
He's hoping the experience gained this winter will help the Indians going forward.
Canal Winchester went 5-9 in its inaugural season in the OCC-Cardinal to place sixth, behind Westerville North (13-1), Hilliard Bradley (11-3), Westerville South (9-5), Dublin Jerome (8-6) and Westerville Central (8-6) and ahead of Dublin Scioto (2-12) and Hilliard Darby (0-14).
The Indians, seeded 37th of 47 teams, lost to ninth-seeded Dublin Coffman 72-38 in the first round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 19 to finish 7-16 overall.
"There was good competition in the MSL-Buckeye, but the OCC is a stronger league top to bottom and we need to get used to the intensity and physicality of this league," Burke said. "We were one of the larger schools in the MSL, but we're the (second) smallest school in the OCC, so we have to show up with our big-boy pants on every game or we're going to get beat. Now that our girls have experienced competing in the OCC, they understand that the competition is at another level and I hope that will drive them to work hard to get better in the offseason."
Canal Winchester, which had been in the MSL since 1966, was hindered by injuries this season. Sophomore Kaylee Guiler, who was expected to start at point guard, missed the entire season because of a torn ACL. Over the course of the season, junior guards Alexandra Kifer and Arena Paige and sophomore guard Rachel Hawkins also were lost to knee injuries.
The Indians won three of their first six games, including their OCC-Cardinal opener Nov. 29 at Scioto (34-24), but lost nine of their next 10 before beating host Westerville Central 50-46 on Jan. 24. They then lost four of their final seven games, including their tournament opener.
"Beating Dublin Scioto in our first league game was a highlight, and our win at Westerville Central was probably the best we played all year," Burke said. "We went through stretches of games where we took a lot of losses, but our kids never quit and they finished the season playing hard in the tournament."
The Indians expect to return Guiler as well as four regular starters in junior guard Taylor Thompson, junior forwards Raven Hamilton and Jasmine Smith and sophomore post player Marina Rarick.
Hamilton (second team), Smith (special mention) and Rarick (honorable mention) all received all-league honors.
"I feel good about the players we have returning for next year," Burke said. "We still have to get better in the offseason, but we have plenty of players who are talented and experienced coming back. Kaylee missed the entire season and Taylor was limited because of some ankle problems, but once they are healthy again, they should both do well.
"I'm also really excited about the emergence of (freshman guard) Kianna Brooks as a defensive player and I'm looking forward to watching her continue to grow as an all-around player."