With all five starters back, the Gahanna Christian Academy girls basketball team has high hopes.

With all five starters back, the Gahanna Christian Academy girls basketball team has high hopes.

The Eagles, who will open Saturday at home against Wellington, finished 14-7 last season after losing to Morral Ridgedale 45-44 in a Division IV district semifinal. They were 9-3 in the MOCAL to finish second to Fairfield Christian.

Coach Rick Sibert, who replaces Scott Fothergill, believes his team has the potential to reach its first district final this season.

"Since I've been in the program, I know all of the girls," said Sibert, who was an assistant to Fothergill. "I don't want to change a lot from what Scott has done the last few years. It's been a fairly smooth transition from that respect."

The Eagles will look to replace graduates Kendall Crawford and Maleisha Morrison.

The starting lineup is back, led by seniors Alayna Barnes (5-foot-10 post player), Kelsey Chatman (5-7 point guard) and Tara Williams (5-9 guard).

"Tara is one of our more consistent outside shooters," Sibert said. "She hit a lot of big shots for us down the stretch last year."

Sibert expects Williams to miss the first month with a knee injury.

Also back are starting juniors Alissa Kirk (5-9 forward) and Deb Tadesseh (5-5 guard).

Barnes was first-team all-MOCAL, Chatman was named to the second team and Kirk received honorable mention.

"It's a level of comfort to have some experience there," Sibert said. "One of our strengths is our experience. It gives you comfort as a coach to know that you can depend on things a little bit more than you might if you have a little bit less experienced of an team. Hopefully this experienced type of team will be able to take what we're teaching into game situations a little bit better. I'm expecting a lot out of this team."

Also on the team are juniors Ashley Garrett (5-7 guard), Justine Schaper (5-6 guard), Amanda Spring (5-5 guard) and Katie Jugan (5-10 post player) and sophomores Ashley Seeley (6-1 forward) and Paris Jenkins (5-5 guard). Schaper is a move-in from Toledo and Spring is a move-in from McConnellsville.

"We need to be better shooters," Sibert said. "We're still not great shooters of the basketball. We shot just over 40 percent as a team last year. I haven't seen much improvement in that in the preseason so far. We'll have to shoot the ball a lot better. It will help if we can get some high quality shots inside.

"Another area that we really need to improve, even with our size, is our rebounding."

Sibert expects Fairfield Christian to be the team to beat in the MOCAL.

"Fairfield Christian should be our main rival, although I think the league will be very, very competitive this year as I think about the other teams and who they have coming back and talking to the other coaches," Sibert said. "If you talk to any of the other coaches in the league, Fairfield would definitely be the team to beat."

At a glance

•Coach: Rick Sibert, first season

•Opener: Saturday vs. Wellington

•Key returnees: Alayna Barnes, Kelsey Chatman, Alissa Kirk, Deb Tadesseh and Tara Williams