A strong start put the Newark Catholic High School boys basketball team on the road to a better season a year ago.

A strong start put the Newark Catholic High School boys basketball team on the road to a better season a year ago.

The Green Wave had a four-game winning streak in late December, improving to 5-2 en route to a 9-13 overall record. That finish represented a seven-win improvement over coach Drew Meister's first season. One of the victories was 64-62 in overtime at Zanesville Rosecrans, a former rival when both played in the Central Catholic League. Before that meeting, Rosecrans never had lost to Newark Catholic.

Meister is hoping for another quick start with the first four games being played at home, including Friday's matchup with Warsaw River View.

"We have to take advantage, definitely," he said. "Winning early brings confidence."

Meister returns an experienced nucleus, one that includes starters Chris Leibold, Andy Vernau, Matt Dawson and Nate Adams.

Leibold, a senior guard, was last year's leading scorer (11.9 points). Vernau, a 6-foot-3 wing player, averaged 15 points and six rebounds during the second half. Adams, a 6-4 junior forward, was cleared to practice last week as he recovers from knee surgery and is ahead of schedule, although he won't be available until January. Dawson, a junior, is a guard.

Vernau played through a finger injury over the summer and senior Jon Casby, a backup to junior James Moerman at point guard, missed most of last season after slamming into a wall chasing a loose ball.

"A big key for us is getting and staying healthy," said Meister, whose team advanced to a Division IV district semifinal before losing to Wellington 49-45. It was one of the team's seven losses by five or fewer points.

The Green Wave, which won twice in three overtime games and also defeated Liberty Union 58-54 in overtime in the regular-season finale, has four seniors, including 6-2, 235-pound Jake Patterson at power forward. A strong junior class also features guard Derek Adam, forward Kevin Cox and post player Phil Taylor. The sophomores are Chris Powless and Glenn Lewis, a 6-4 forward.

"We have more of a comfort level this year. Maybe that's because we had such a great off-season being together so much," Meister said. "We had a moving party just the other day. I was moving into a new house and that was our Saturday. We went bowling one night and stayed until two (o'clock) in the morning. Those kinds of things really help build chemistry."

The Green Wave finished 4-10 in the MSL-Ohio Division won by Columbus Academy (13-1) but is hoping to make a move up the standings, especially with so much parity expected.

"I don't think anybody wins it with one loss this year," Meister said. "It'll be interesting for all of us."