For the first time in 14 years, the Big Walnut High School girls basketball team entered a season under the direction of someone other than Bob Scott.
The Golden Eagles, who opened with a 48-44 win over Buckeye Valley on Nov. 26 at home, are being led by Steve Palmer, who was hired during the offseason to replace Scott as coach.
Palmer, who also serves as girls lacrosse coach at Big Walnut, spent the past six seasons coaching girls basketball at Worthington Kilbourne after coaching Tree of Life for four seasons. He had a 35-94 record at Kilbourne.
Scott stepped down after compiling a 166-124 record in 13 seasons. Last season, the Golden Eagles finished 14-10 overall, went 6-8 in the OCC-Capital Division to place fifth behind champion Olentangy Orange (14-0) and, as the eighth seed, lost to top-seeded Eastmoor Academy 48-44 in a Division II district semifinal.
Big Walnut, which opened OCC-Capital play Nov. 29 against Franklin Heights, returned six letterwinners in seniors Skylar Fleak (6-foot, forward), Sara Petty (5-10, center), Hannah Seawell (5-6, guard) and Leah Shaw (5-7, guard) and juniors Erika Boehm (5-6, guard) and Makenna Hammond (5-8, guard).
Fleak, who averaged a team-high 11 points last season and was named second-team all-league, had 13 points against Buckeye Valley and Hammond scored 10.
"You always look to your older kids," Palmer said. "They're battle-tested. They've been through a lot. They've played three or four years. You look to them to set the tone in games and practice."
Rounding out the roster are senior Hayley Apple (5-7, guard), juniors Kailey Cagle (5-11, forward), Ashley Ratliff (5-7, guard) and Cassie Walaszek (5-6, guard) and sophomore Colleen White (5-10, forward).
"They've got such a blue-collar work ethic," Palmer said, speaking of his players as a whole. "What they lack in skill they make up for in determination. You can't coach that. They either have that or they don't. They work well together."
Palmer will face one of his former teams twice this season, as Worthington Kilbourne has moved into the OCC-Capital to replace Watkins Memorial, which left for the Licking County League. The Wolves were in the OCC-Cardinal last season.
Big Walnut travels to Kilbourne on Dec. 17 and plays host to the Wolves on Jan. 28.
"You always want to do the best you can in the league," Palmer said. "There are a couple teams there in front of us. It's always good to go in as an underdog and not have a target on your back, but every night you've got someone who's going to test you or you test them."
Boys basketball team looking to improve
The boys basketball team is looking to improve on last season, in which it finished 7-17 overall, went 2-12 in the OCC-Capital to place eighth behind champion New Albany (14-0) and, as the 20th seed, lost to seventh-seeded Eastmoor 59-42 in the second round of the Division II district tournament.
Big Walnut opens Tuesday, Dec. 3, at home against Buckeye Valley.
"The first game is always an interesting game," third-year coach Eric Myers said. "You've waited all summer and all fall to take the floor. I think it's important to come into that first game and show some composure and execute our offenses and defenses effectively."
The Golden Eagles lost their top two scorers from last season to graduation in forward Adam Shaheen, who averaged 18.3 points and made third-team all-district and first-team all-league, and guard Zach Laughman, who averaged 9.7 points and was special mention all-league.
"Coming into the season, one of our goals is to move the scoreboard a little more," Myers said. "Actually, a lot more. We want to put some points on the board.
"Last year, scoring-wise, we weren't very balanced. Adam was our high scorer on a regular basis, then Zach, then a couple other guys sprinkled in here and there. This year, we're much more balanced in scoring. More guys are involved in the offense."
Big Walnut returns six letterwinners in seniors Jeremy Bok (6-2, forward), Logan Boyd (6-1, guard), Nick Herbert (6-1, guard) and Chase LaVeer (6-0, guard) and juniors Zac Asher (6-5, forward) and Michael Buckles (6-0, forward).
Boyd was honorable mention all-league last season.
"Logan is our floor leader," Myers said. "Nick has done a great job for us shooting the ball. Chase is, by far, our best defender. He understands our defensive concept. Jeremy will see some nice minutes this year."
Also on the team are juniors Alec Evans (6-1, forward), Kyle Gose (5-8, guard), Mason Knight (5-11, guard), Joe Muench (6-0, guard) and Matt Tarney (5-10, guard) and sophomore Josh Seabrook (6-3, forward).
Big Walnut opens OCC-Capital play Friday, Dec. 6, at Olentangy. Kilbourne has moved into the league after being in the OCC-Cardinal last season.
"Kilbourne definitely fits the mold of the conference," Myers said "There's a lot of good basketball played (in the OCC-Capital). It's very competitive day in and day out."