Not long after Chris Maul was hired as the Hilliard Darby High School girls basketball coach last April, he sat down and watched a lot of film -- all 22 games from the 2007-2008 season.

Not long after Chris Maul was hired as the Hilliard Darby High School girls basketball coach last April, he sat down and watched a lot of film -- all 22 games from the 2007-2008 season.

He didn't expect his team to grasp his defensive philosophy overnight.

"We started putting that in last summer and they were used to a completely different style," said Maul, whose team opens Saturday at Lancaster, a former OCC-Ohio Division rival. "The first couple of weeks we were stopping practice a lot. It was frustrating at first, but we talked to them about the importance of defense."

The Panthers under former coach Brent Bower were used to forcing opponents to the baseline. Maul, an assistant under boys coach Brett Norris for five seasons, has been around a system that forces the ball to the middle.

Darby's three-hour practices have been more about Xs and Os.

"We've been so used to playing man-to-man, but this year we've been playing more of a help defense," said 5-foot-9 senior guard Shane Jackson, a Ball State recruit.

"There's been a lot of adjusting and I don't have it down yet."

For nine seasons, that man-to-man defense under Bower gave the Panthers five seasons with 15 or more wins, although last year wasn't one of them.

A 56-49 loss to Westerville Central in the second round of the Division I tournament ended the season at 13-9 overall after winning 18 games the previous two seasons.

Darby's record reflected a harsh schedule that included losses to more than a half dozen of the area's best teams including a 50-46 double-overtime loss to Dublin Coffman, which finished atop the state poll and fell to state runner-up West Chester Lakota West in a regional final.

The Panthers were third at 7-3 in the OCC-Ohio behind Gahanna (9-1) and Lancaster (8-2) and ahead of Newark (3-7), Westland (2-8) and Groveport (1-9).

As part of the OCC-Central this season, Darby will face some of the stronger opponents in central Ohio in Coffman, Davidson and Upper Arlington over the course of a 14-game league schedule.

With a guard-oriented offense, Maul will look to a motion attack that features a number of screens for Jackson, a first-team all-league selection who led the team in scoring last season at 11.1 points per game.

She also had 94 rebounds, 56 assists and 42 steals.

"She can defend all over the floor and she's strong enough to defend in the post," Maul said.

"She's our tallest player. We're short across the board so we're going to have to use our quickness to our advantage."

Darby will feature a senior-loaded lineup with forward and guard Erin Warning (5-8), who averaged 8.6 points as a second-team all-league, Alivia Nickolaus (5-5 guard), who shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range last season, and point guard Kalee Seagle (5-5), a fourth-year starter who was honorable mention all-league.

Sophomore guard Kellie Roudabush (5-5) played in 20 games as a freshman.

"We've got a lot of kids still jockeying for spots," Maul said. "We've been putting in so much terminology you wonder if it's been too much, but the girls have been great."

At a glance

•Coach: Chris Maul, first season

•Opener: Saturday at Lancaster

•Key players: Shane Jackson, Alivia Nickolaus, Kellie Roudabush, Kalee Seagle and Erin Warning