When Mark Hess was hired to coach the Hilliard Darby High School boys basketball team, he brought a hard-nosed, defensive-minded game plan with him.
Fortunately for the Panthers, that style of play was not foreign to them, and, as a result, they are adjusting fairly quickly to their first-year coach, who spent the past four seasons as an assistant at Olentangy Liberty under coach Greg Nossaman.
"We use a lot of the defensive concepts that coach Nossaman does at Liberty, but Darby is also known as a defensive school," Hess said. "It's not like we have to teach them ball pressure and things like that. They are just adapting to the way we want them to guard people.
"We're going to pride ourselves on defense and being the tougher team. Darby has always had that mentality and we want to continue that."
Darby was 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the OCC-Cardinal Division before playing Worthington Kilbourne on Dec. 18.
"Our goal is to go into every game and practice with the idea of competing as hard as possible," Hess said. "I know it has been a small sample size, but we're still trying to go a full 32 minutes. We'll get better as the year goes on. We're getting there, playing hard in stints, but we still have to put things together for a full game."
Junior guard Taylor Van Winkle was averaging a team-high 17 points through three games, followed by sophomore point guard David Dennis (12.7), senior forward Nic Baker (11.3), senior guard Caleb Day (7.5) and sophomore guard Jordan Clark (4.3). Van Winkle had 10 3-pointers through three games and Baker had eight.
"Coming in, (the coaching staff) didn't know what to expect (from the players)," Hess said. "I think the most pleasant surprise has been our bench play with Caleb Day, (senior guard) Kaleb Sislowski and Jordan Clark.
"Caleb Day didn't play last year, but he gives us a strong athletic presence. Kaleb Sislowski comes in and is just solid. Both he and Jordan Clark come in and they don't fill the stat sheets, but Clark handles the ball well and Sislowski can play a couple of different positions and can guard the other team's best player."
Girls team looking for balanced scoring
Girls coach Jodi Korbas would like to see more of her players step up offensively.
Senior post player Emily Krumpe was averaging a team-high 17.2 points through five games. That's more than the Panthers' next two highest-scoring players, senior guard Sydney Palsgrove (7.2) and junior forward Caitlin Snyder (4.2), combined.
Krumpe had 22 points in a 47-27 victory over Marion Pleasant on Dec. 11 and scored 23 in a 48-40 loss to Jerome on Dec. 14. The loss to the Celtics dropped the Panthers to 1-4 overall and 0-3 in the OCC-Cardinal.
"If we were able to get some other kids to score in double figures other than Emily, it would be good for us," Korbas said. "If we could get one more kid with eight or nine points, it would be possible to get more victories."
Against Pleasant, Palsgrove scored 14 points and Snyder scored eight. Three of Krumpe's points in the contest came on a 3-pointer.
"Emily has been averaging in double figures in scoring and she has done a nice job of rebounding," Korbas said. "We have started to move her out from the post area and we're trying to utilize her in different positions. She has responded well to that."
Darby will have a busy schedule over the holiday break, as it will play four games over the next nine days. After playing host to Westerville South on Friday, Dec. 21, the Panthers will play two games in the Watterson Christmas Classic on Dec. 27 and 28 before playing Barberton on Dec. 29 at home.
"We have to continue to play hard," Korbas said. "If a couple of loose balls go our way (against Jerome), we could have had a different outcome. But the big thing for us is to have one more kid step up ? and it doesn't have to be the same one every game ? to score eight or nine points for us. That could be the difference."