Liz Van Winkle has reason to be optimistic about her Hilliard Darby High School girls basketball team.

Liz Van Winkle has reason to be optimistic about her Hilliard Darby High School girls basketball team.

The third-year coach saw her Panthers double their number of victories from last season as they finished 8-14 overall after losing to ninth-seeded Watterson 51-33 in a second-round Division I district tournament game Feb. 22 at Olentangy Orange.

"The (opening-round) tournament win over (Dublin) Scioto (43-39 on Feb. 15 at Orange) was a high point to double our wins," said Van Winkle, whose team went 4-17 last season. "We had our ups and downs, but we really improved our overall games, even in the games we lost."

Senior Bri Rispress led the Panthers against Watterson with 10 points and junior post player Emily Krumpe scored seven. Junior guard Katie Esposito had six points and senior guard Annie Hilditch and junior guard Sydney Palsgrove both scored five points.

Darby was 4-10 in the OCC-Central Division, finishing sixth behind Dublin Coffman (13-1), Upper Arlington (12-2), Central Crossing (11-3), Hilliard Davidson (7-7) and Thomas Worthington (6-8) and ahead of Westland (2-12) and Worthington Kilbourne (1-13).

Krumpe led the Panthers in scoring at 10.5 points per game and averaged 8.1 rebounds, and Hilditch averaged 8.5 points. Rispress scored 7.3 points per contest and averaged a team-high 9.1 rebounds. Esposito averaged 4.4 points and Palsgrove averaged 4.1.

The Panthers had four seniors in guard/forward Molly Bretz (scholar athlete), guard Alex Hoferkamp, Hilditch (honorable mention all-district, special mention all-league) and Rispress (honorable mention all-district and all-league).

"These seniors really meant a lot to the program and they all had their roles on varsity," Van Winkle said. "They really were great examples for what the younger kids need to do to be successful."

Those expected to return include juniors Esposito, Krumpe (honorable mention all-district, second-team all-league), Palsgrove and Aaris Sheets (forward) as well as sophomores Erika Boyd (guard), Gabby Sarbaugh (guard/forward), Deja Scott (forward) and Caitlin Snyder (guard) and freshman guard Hannah Yokum.

"Emily will be back as our leader and will be a four-year varsity letterwinner," Van Winkle said. "She really improved her stats and her confidence this year.

"Katie was definitely our most improved player and Sydney Palsgrove really came on for us offensively in the second half. Our j.v. team won 13 games and we have a core group of four sophomores on that team who could help us next year if they put in their offseason work."

•The boys team finished 6-15, losing to Kilbourne 59-43 in the opening round of the Division I district tournament Feb. 24 at Reynoldsburg.

The Panthers trailed 22-7 after the first period.

First-year coach Jim Van Winkle was an interim coach for the Panthers and will reapply for the position. He said the game was a microcosm of his team's season.

"We give up 22 points in the first quarter and only give up 59, so we did play well after that," Van Winkle said. "But we have been lacking consistency all season. We have been consistent in bits and pieces, but never for a full game."

Senior guard Bryson Hook led Darby with 11 points. Sophomore guard Taylor Van Winkle scored eight points and junior post player Jimi Booker scored seven. Junior post player Clay Schmidt and freshman point guard David Dennis had six points apiece and junior forward Nic Baker added five.

Darby went 3-11 in the OCC-Central to finish seventh ahead of Central Crossing (0-14) and behind champion UA (12-2), Coffman and Thomas (9-5), Kilbourne and Westland (8-6) and Davidson (7-7).

Hook was one of three seniors along with post players Steven Miles and Tavish Wille. Hook, who averaged 10.8 points, was honorable mention all-district and special mention all-league, and the team's scholar athlete.

"Bryson was one of those gritty guys who was a competitor," coach Van Winkle said. "We will definitely miss his leadership and he set a great example for the younger players."

Taylor Van Winkle averaged a team-high 12.1 points per game and Baker added 8.6 points per contest.

Also expected back for the Panthers are junior guards Cade Carter, Andy McFann and Nico Painter, junior forward Caleb Sislowski and sophomore guard Anthony Toler.

"We will have just about everyone back next year and I'm excited about it," coach Van Winkle said. "We also have a couple of freshmen coming up from a 15-5 j.v. team, so if we do our work in the offseason, it could be a lot of fun."