After losing nine players from a year ago to graduation and his starting point guard before the season, second-year Columbus Academy boys basketball coach Jeff Warstler knew he was facing a rebuilding process.
The Vikings are coming off a season in which they finished 18-6 overall after losing to Worthington Christian 51-49 in a Division III district semifinal. However, Academy has a new starting five and senior point guard Bryce Bailey was lost for the season with a labrum injury suffered in his right shoulder during football season.
"We're inexperienced," Warstler said. "It's a rebuilding year, but we're not going to view it that way. We're going to view it as every night we go out and scout and do the best we can to coach them up and we're going to give people our best shot."
The Vikings return just two players with varsity experience in 6-foot-5 senior center Jonathan Kornberg and 6-5 junior forward Scott Mackenzie. Both players came off the bench last season.
Both were in the starting lineup in Academy's season-opening 61-44 loss to visiting Mifflin on Dec 2. Kornberg scored a game-high 21 points.
Seniors Lee Solomon (5-10, guard) and Charlie Watters (6-5, forward), who have not played basketball since middle school, were in the starting lineup against Mifflin.
"Lee and Charlie will give you everything that they have," Warstler said. "They're great kids, great role models for other kids. We're happy to have them out. I like the team. I like these kids a lot."
Sophomore Jonah Schottenstein (5-9, point guard) was the other starter in the opener.
Warstler expects senior Grayson Wise (5-9, guard), junior Max Bechtel (6-2, guard) and sophomore Jack Mills (6-2, post player) to be key players off the bench.
Other players are juniors Cameron Taylor (5-10, post player), Wes Terveer (6-2, guard) and Brett Trimbur (6-1, guard).
Senior Turner Montgomery (6-3, post player) was lost for the season with an ankle injury.
Senior guard Jack Lint, who missed most of last season with a right shoulder injury, has decided not to play this season. He has committed to the University of Virginia for track and field.
The Vikings opened MSL-Ohio play Dec. 7 with an 84-43 loss at Whitehall.
Academy, Bexley and Whitehall have remained in the realigned league, which now includes Grandview, London, Madison Plains, West Jefferson and Worthington Christian. Granville, Heath, Lakewood, Licking Valley and Newark Catholic have moved to the Licking County League.
"It's a tough league," Warstler said. "Whitehall, Worthington Christian, Bexley and Grandview, any of those teams could win it."
Among those lost to graduation were Daniel Aronowitz (16.1 points, 5.5 rebounds), Aakaash Paladugu (12.7 points, 6.6 rebounds) and Jared Harris (4.1 assists, 3.0 steals). Aronowitz was first-team all-league and all-district, and Paladugu and Harris were second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Girls basketball team opens season with win
After going 3-19 last season, the girls basketball team opened on a positive note by rallying to defeat host Grove City Christian 32-25 on Nov. 25.
The Vikings outscored the Eagles 17-3 in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Zaria McBride (6-1, center) led Academy with 12 points.
"The girls couldn't believe what they did," said fourth-year coach Heather Gepper, whose team lost to Grove City Christian 40-37 last season. "They were pretty psyched up in the locker room. It's definitely a good way to start the season and set the tone like that with a good win. (They) came from behind and showed some resilience."
The Vikings return the nucleus of last year's team led by McBride, who averaged team highs of 12.0 points and 7.0 rebounds and was second-team all-league.
Junior Natalie Weikert (6-2, forward) averaged 5.1 points and was honorable mention all-league.
Other returnees are senior Brie Stahl (5-3, guard), junior Kelly Brown (5-3, guard) and sophomores Caroline Arono-witz (5-6, point guard), Neve Adler (5-11, forward) and Christina Lee (5-9, guard).
Other players are freshmen Kate Allison (5-6, guard), Michelle Daoud (5-5, guard), Morgan Hamilton (5-7, forward), Eva Schottenstein (5-3, point guard) and Kennedy Sulton (5-5, guard).
"We're light years ahead of where we started last year because all of the sophomores have a year under their belts, but it's still definitely a lot of teaching, a lot of fundamentals, a lot of footwork," Gepper said.
The Vikings went 1-13 in the MSL-Ohio last season to tie Lakewood for seventh behind champion Newark Catholic (14-0). Their league opener Dec. 6 at Bexley was postponed because of bad weather.
The league's new alignment "will take a little bit of pressure off of us," Gepper said. "The stigma of those Licking County teams and going there and getting beat by 20, 30 points, I don't think we'll see that this year."