Ben Patrick is brimming with excitement in his second season as coach of the Northridge High School boys basketball team.
The Vikings return a nucleus of four guards and a forward from a team that finished 7-16 overall last season after losing to West Jefferson 78-63 in the opening round of the Division III district tournament.
"I'm excited to start after the scrimmages, and we open up with Johnstown (at home Tuesday, Dec. 3) and that's a pretty big deal in itself," Patrick said. "I'm excited about this group because they have worked so hard to become good shooters."
Chad Campbell, a 5-foot-11 junior guard, was honorable mention all-district and the Vikings' top scorer last season, averaging 14.3 points along with 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals.
Also back are 6-1 senior guard Matt Grindle (11.9 points, 5.8 rebounds), 5-11 junior guard Gavin Shank (6.1 points, 2.3 rebounds), 6-0 guard Bryant Garee and 6-5 forward Chris Wilkoski.
"We have our leading scorer back in Chad Campbell, and Gavin Shank has been lighting it up in the preseason," Patrick said. "We also had the big guys in Chris Wilkoski and (6-4 senior forward) Jake Neff, who both can be on the court at the same time and give us another dimension.
"They have been in the gym every day working to get better, especially on their shooting. We didn't play bad defense last year, but we couldn't shoot the ball."
Rounding out the roster are juniors David Butt (6-1, guard), Clayton Nicks (6-0, guard), Ethan Wilkoski and Brad Wilson (6-1, guard) and sophomores Robi Patrick (5-11, guard) and Skyler Pritts.
The Vikings, who finished sixth (4-10) in the MBC last year behind champion Fredericktown (13-1), now are in the LCL with Johnstown, Granville, Heath, Lakewood, Licking Heights, Licking Valley, Newark Catholic, Utica and Watkins Memorial.
"(Playing those schools) will help come tournament time," coach Patrick said. "Playing schools like Licking Heights and Granville and others twice will only make us better. The boys know they will have a battle every night in the league."
Girls basketball team adjusts to new system
The girls basketball team has a new coach in Joe Rucker and new philosophies to go along with the change.
Rucker replaced Fred Davis, who coached for one season as the Vikings finished 2-21 overall, losing to Centerburg 53-39 in the first round of the Division III district tournament.
Northridge finished eighth (1-13) in the MBC behind co-champions Johnstown and Utica (12-2). "The girls are picking up on the new system, but we are doing things so much differently than in the past," said Rucker, who coached at Mount Vernon the past three seasons. "We want to bring a lunch pail to work every day. We want to outwork our opponents."
The Vikings return senior guard Sara Pribonic, a three-year starter who averaged 13.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals last season. Summer Prevost, a 5-8 forward, is the other senior.
Junior forwards Belinda Marcum (5-10) and Michaela Pankuch (5-8) are returning letterwinners along with sophomore forward Jamie Swickard (5-8). Another letterwinner, 5-4 junior guard Heidi Wolfe, will miss the season with knee and hip injuries.
"We're not at the skill level we need to be," said Rucker, whose team opens Monday, Dec. 2, at home against Mount Gilead and begins LCL play Thursday, Dec. 5, at Utica. "Fundamentally, there are things we need to work on."
Rounding out the roster are junior Sarah George (5-9, forward), sophomore Emily Wilson (5-5, guard) and freshmen Jenna Denune (5-8, forward), Rachael Harmon (5-3, guard), Alexis Humes (5-0, guard), McKenna Kitchen (5-7, guard/forward), Veronica Reese (5-8, guard/forward) and Sammi Whitt (5-2, guard).
"We know the strengths and weakness of our players and we need to work on those," Rucker said. "We need to work so they won't be weaknesses by games 10, 11 or 12."