Kalie Mascarello of the Whetstone High School girls basketball team couldn't be happier with how her senior season is going.
"This has just been a wonderful season so far," said the 5-foot-7 guard and fourth-year starter. "There definitely has been a big change in the program. We're not only surprising ourselves, but everyone in the City League and in our school. We have other City League coaches coming to scout us and that's never happened before. Other City teams are taking us seriously.
"We're getting more fans at our home games and there's more enthusiasm in the stands, and that gives us even more energy on the floor. This is the first time in my four years that students and peers outside the building have even noticed us."
Whetstone was 10-5 overall and 5-4 in the City League-North Division before playing Columbus East on Jan. 21. The Braves finished 8-15 last season after going 7-14 in 2011-12 and 5-16 in 2010-11.
Mascarello credits coach Bucky Walters with changing the culture of the program and bringing out the skill and talent the players already possessed. Walters took over the team four games into last season, replacing Scott Radde, who abruptly resigned without any explanation, and changed the players' practice habits by holding them accountable and making them practice at a quicker pace.
"We're definitely more disciplined, accountable and dedicated," Mascarello said. "If you miss practice or are late to practice, you're going run or sit out. You have to keep your grades up and do all the right things. That, combined with working hard on the basic fundamentals, has made each of us greatly improved."
Walters said the Braves had talent but needed some direction.
"I think the basic skill set was there. They just needed some fine-tuning and consistent focus on fundamentals and they needed to be more unselfish and play for each other," he said. "They needed some discipline and trust.
"I've always said that if you care for them as young people first, then care for them and push them as student-athletes (and) they will respond. That's been my philosophy coaching different sports for 30 years."
Mascarello said having like-minded athletes helps to build cohesiveness.
"We have a good sophomore class and the seniors have tried to build our team chemistry," she said. "We've gone bowling, to an Ohio State women's basketball game and we had a team Christmas party. We do things like that to get close off the floor. That helps build trust. Our assist numbers are so much better than last year because we trust each other."
According to Mascarello, given how well they have been playing, the Braves have adjusted their goals. She said the primary goals for the rest of the season are to finish third in the City-North and win a few games in the Division I district tournament.
"Northland and Centennial are just better teams than we are and we can't catch them, but we'd still like to beat them," Mascarello said. "The more wins we get, the better our chances are of getting a better (tournament seed) and winning some tournament games."
Whetstone has City-North games Friday, Jan. 24, at Northland and Tuesday, Jan. 28, at home against Mifflin. The Braves already have faced both teams in league play this season, losing to Northland 79-58 on Dec. 17 and Mifflin 49-32 on Dec. 10.
The loss to Northland could be viewed as a moral victory given that Whetstone was blown out twice by the Vikings last season, falling 94-24 and 88-20.
"In the first round (of league play), we trimmed our margin of defeat (against Northland) substantially from last year," Walters said. "We trailed Northland by just a point in the third quarter, but they pulled away in the fourth quarter. We want to prove it wasn't a fluke, go out and play our best basketball down the stretch here and see what happens."
Boys basketball team has busy schedule
The boys basketball team is in the midst of a stretch in which it plays four league games in eight days.
Whetstone was 2-9 overall and 1-7 in the City-North before playing East on Jan. 21. It travels to Linden-McKinley on Thursday, Jan. 23, and plays host to Northland on Friday, Jan. 24, before traveling to Mifflin on Tuesday, Jan. 28.
The Braves nearly overcame a 20-point, fourth-quarter deficit against Linden on Jan. 14 before falling 65-60.
Aaron Adair had 23 points, five steals and four assists against the Panthers, with Dexter Kowalski and Brian Scott adding 10 and eight points, respectively.
Wrestlers preparing for home invitational
The wrestling team will play host to the Whetstone Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 25.
The Braves competed in the Division I state team tournament Jan. 22 at Olentangy. They were seeded eighth in Region 5-B and faced top-seeded Westerville North in the first round at Olentangy. The winner competed against fourth-seeded Olentangy or fifth-seeded Upper Arlington in the second round that same day.
The second-round winner advanced to a Region 5 semifinal Wednesday, Jan. 29, against second-seeded Delaware, third-seeded Olentangy Orange, sixth-seeded St. Charles or seventh-seeded Westerville Central at a site to be determined. The regional final also will be held that same day at the same site.
The regional champion advances to a state quarterfinal Feb. 8 at Ohio State's St. John Arena.
Bowling teams sitting in middle of standings
The boys and girls bowling teams entered the week sitting in the middle of the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-Central Division standings.
The girls team was fifth in the 11-team league through Jan. 18 at 4-2, behind DeSales (5-0), Ready (5-0), Northland (4-0) and Hartley (5-1).
Savannah Stuver had a 149.5 game average to lead the Braves, followed by Chelsea Harper (126.5), Melinda Petrey (114.4), Kaylee Fernandez (123), Jillian McCarter (119.7), Tara Ceckitti (104) and Val Vokac (103.5).
The boys team was eighth in the 15-team league through Jan. 18 at 3-4, behind first-place Columbus Academy (9-0).
Ethan Denbow (178.5) had the Braves' highest game average. Win McCarter (160.3) was next, followed by David Stern (136.6), Alec Waitkus (132), Michael Curry (131.8) and Christian Jefferson (129.1).