After reaching its first district final last season, the Johnstown-Monroe High School girls basketball team is hungry for more.
And the Johnnies may be able to accomplish that feat again. They have four starters back from a team that finished 19-5 overall, losing to top-seeded and eventual state champion Africentric 93-54 in a Division III district final.
"We're excited, but we're still very cautious," said coach Carl Dufford, whose team was seeded fifth in the district tournament and defeated Ready (62-52), Columbus School for Girls (62-13) and Madison Plains (64-54 in district semifinal) before falling to Africentric. "We need to work hard if we are going to be a better team."
Johnstown started strong with a 21-point first quarter in a 64-24 opening victory Nov. 27 over visiting Watkins Memorial, a Division I school.
Marissa Sheets, a 5-foot-6 guard, is the team's lone senior. She had eight points, five rebounds and three assists in the opener.
Natalie Carpenter, a 5-5 junior guard, scored 18 points and was 8-for-8 on free throws. Junior point guard Laiken Valentine (5-6) had 15 points, seven rebounds, six steals and four assists.
The other returning starter, 6-0 sophomore post player Paige Cannon, had eight points and six rebounds.
Makenzie Spang, a 6-2 post player, was the first player off the bench last season. She started the opener and finished with six points and 11 rebounds.
"We're going to score points, but the way we play offense, we're going to give up some points," said Dufford, who is in his second season. "We need to make sure we're doing what we need to be doing on defense."
The Johnnies tied Utica for second (11-3) in the MBC last season, behind Centerburg (12-2) and ahead of Fredericktown (7-7), East Knox (5-9), Danville (4-10), Loudonville (4-10) and Northridge (2-12).
Carpenter (second-team all-district, first-team all-league) averaged a team-best 16.4 points and 2.7 steals. Cannon (third-team all-district, second-team all-league) averaged 14 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. Valentine (honorable mention all-district and all-league) averaged 9.2 points, 6.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 3.5 steals.
Sheets averaged 7.1 points and 3.4 assists, and Spang averaged 5.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.
Rounding out the roster are junior Ashley Bush (5-7, forward), sophomores Adeline Almendinger (5-1, guard), Kerrigan Williams (5-5, guard/forward) and Kylie Workman (5-4, guard) and freshman Maddi Lusk (5-4, guard).
Two players will miss the season with injuries. Arika Sayer, a 5-8 junior forward, is battling shoulder and knee injuries and junior Taylor Thomas, a 5-5 junior guard, is out with back problems.
"We have 18 players out, which is three more than last year, and we had 20 before the injuries," said Dufford, whose team opened MBC play Dec. 1 against Utica. "It's exciting to see how the program is going."
Boys basketball team has depth
The boys basketball team returns one starter from a squad that finished 12-9 overall last season after losing to 10th-seeded North Union 72-61 in a second-round Division III district tournament game. The eighth-seeded Johnnies had a first-round bye.
Johnstown tied Fredericktown for second (10-4) in the MBC last season, behind Loudonville (13-1) and ahead of Utica (9-5), Northridge (6-8), Centerburg (4-10), Danville (4-10) and East Knox (0-14).
Junior William Orr (6-1) returns at guard after averaging 11.2 points and making 42 of 99 attempts from 3-point range (42.4 percent). He was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Senior Sam Scovell was a starter when 2012 graduate Matt Smith was sidelined with an ankle injury. The 6-0 senior guard/forward averaged 6.3 points.
Other returnees include 6-3 senior post player Tim Sayer and 6-2 senior forward Scott Sammons.
"We're a good defensive team and we should score points," said coach Kevin Martin, who is in his fifth season. "We need more production from the paint and that will open things up on the outside. Our strength lies on the perimeter with William Orr and Sam Scovell."
Juniors Charles Benton (6-4, forward) and Justin Bush (6-0, guard) and sophomore Cody Farley (6-0, guard) split time between j.v. and varsity last season.
Rounding out the roster are seniors J.D. Arnold (6-0, guard) and Daniel Mark Almendinger (5-9, guard) and juniors Thomas Benton (6-2, post player) and Josh Kirkpatrick (6-2, forward).
"We have some talented players and more depth," said Martin, whose team opened Dec. 1 against Heath and begins MBC play Friday, Dec. 7, at home against Utica. "They work extremely hard, which is good because we're still a couple of weeks from where we should be. But our depth should really help us out, especially early in the season."