Coach Mark Hess said time flew by in his first season leading the Hilliard Darby High School boys basketball program.
Now, his focus turns to getting his team ready for a strong follow-up to a season in which the Panthers finished 14-9 overall. They lost to St. Charles 53-51 in overtime Feb. 23 in the opening round of the Division I district tournament.
"It really goes fast," Hess said. "I was happy with the progress we made because we brought in a whole new offensive philosophy and they bought into it from day one. That was what I appreciated the most."
The Panthers finished fourth (8-6) in the OCC-Cardinal Division behind Westerville North (14-0), Dublin Scioto (11-3) and Westerville South (9-5) and ahead of Westerville Central (6-8), Dublin Jerome (4-10), Worthington Kilbourne (4-10) and Hilliard Bradley (0-14).
Junior guard Taylor Van Winkle (honorable mention all-district, second-team all-league) led the Panthers in scoring (13.5 points per game), 3-pointers (57) and free-throw percentage (55-for-66, 83.3 percent). Senior forward Nic Baker (honorable mention all-district, second-team all-league) averaged 11 points and made 50 of 116 3-point attempts (43.1 percent).
Sophomore guard David Dennis (honorable mention all-district, third-team all-league) averaged 9.1 points and 5.1 assists.
The other seniors were Jimi Booker (center), Caxde Carter (guard, honorable mention all-league), Caleb Day (guard), Nico Painter (guard), Clay Schmidt (center) and Kaleb Sislowski (guard).
"Our seniors brought it every day," Hess said. "I'm going to miss that and I can't thank them enough for that. I thought from game one to game 23 we got a lot better because of these guys. I would have loved to have been able to have more game with these guys."
Van Winkle, Dennis and sophomore guard Jordan Clark (4 points per game) are the most experienced players expected to return. Also expected back are junior forward Zach Cowen, sophomore forward Carter Schmidt and sophomore guard Joey Schnieder.
"We have three guys expected back with experience, but not a lot of size," Hess said. "There is a lot of opportunities for a lot of inside players to come in and get playing time. We may not be the biggest team, but Taylor, Jordan and David are gym rats. They will bring the team along."
Girls team shows marked improvement
The girls team finished 6-17 overall after losing to seventh-seeded Olentangy 67-19 on Feb. 16 in the opening round of the Division I district tournament.
The Panthers were seventh (4-10) in the OCC-Cardinal behind Westerville North (14-0), Jerome (9-5), Scioto (9-5), Bradley (8-6), Westerville Central (7-7) and Westerville South (5-9) and ahead of Kilbourne (0-14).
"I thought we improved as the season went on," said coach Jodi Korbas, who completed her first season. "We had a four-game stretch where we won three of four games and lost a close game to Davidson (42-39 on Jan. 26). We also probably had five or six games where we were in it midway through the fourth and lost by eight or 10 (points)."
Senior center Emily Krumpe (honorable mention all-district, first-team all-league) led the Panthers in scoring (14.3 points per game) and rebounds (8.8 per game). Senior guard Sydney Palsgrove (special mention all-league) averaged 9.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals and senior guard Kate Esposito averaged 4.7 points and 1.9 assists.
"They were such a good group of kids. The seniors really helped me acclimate to Darby," Korbas said. "We would have liked to have won more, but the kids got along and we improved as the year went along. Emily led us stat-wise, but Sydney and Kate really were good leaders. They were really approachable with the young players and helped bring them along."
Expected back are junior guard Erika Boyd (2.1 points), junior forward Caitlin Snyder (4.3 points, 5 rebounds; honorable mention all-league), sophomore guard Nycole Carter (1.3 points, 1.3 rebounds), sophomore post player Grace Hambrock, sophomore guard Bekah Sislowski, freshman guard Carlee Murry and freshman forward Sam Sech (2.4 points, 2.7 rebounds).
"Next year, we certainly have to use our quickness to our advantage," Korbas said. "Our tallest player, Caitlin Snyder, will move from the post to the point. Sam Sech played post for us, and she's not really a post player.
"We have to come up with some other ways to play against taller opponents. We stress that they have to work hard in the offseason and do more than the coach requires. They have to get in (the gym) and shoot around. We have to improve our shooting percentage from the field."