The Licking Heights High School girls basketball team is looking to leave its mark in its final season in the Mid-State League before moving to the Licking County League next year.
The Hornets return four starters from last season, when they finished 8-13 overall and went 8-6 in the MSL-Cardinal Division to place fourth, behind Liberty Union (14-0), West Jefferson (9-5) and Harvest Prep (9-5) and ahead of Fisher Catholic (7-7), Berne Union (7-7), Grandview (2-12) and Millersport (0-14).
Licking Heights ended last season with a 47-15 loss to seventh-seeded DeSales in the first round of the Division II district tournament.
"We have four goals this season, also going forward as we build the program," said first-year coach Tay Tufts, who has 17 years of coaching experience, most recently with Garfield Heights. "We want to improve individual performances daily, become a family on and off the court, win our league and battle for a state championship.
"Ultimately, every varsity program should aim for these four goals. My coaching staff and I continually stress to our team that these are the reasons you play high school basketball."
The returning starters are seniors Courtney Jones (6-foot, post player) and Alyssa Stanley (guard) and juniors Skyler Ortiz (guard) and Dameras Whitlock (point guard).
"We're going to have a pretty good season," Whitlock said. "We're a good defensive team and we're looking to push the ball. It may take us some time to come together, but we've got a really good coach. We want to win the league championship. We've never done that here."
Whitlock averaged 8.1 points and was named honorable mention all-district last season. Jones averaged 8.8 points, with Ortiz and Stanley averaging 8.4 and 5.8 points, respectively.
"Dameras Whitlock should have a very productive season," said Tufts, whose team was 0-2 before its league opener Dec. 1 against Harvest Prep. "The coaching staff has pushed Dameras to be a leader first, then a better point guard by making the players around her better. She has been passing the ball extremely well and her confidence continues to grow daily. She has drawn the interest of a few top Division II college programs already this year."
Licking Heights lost 55-39 to Watkins Memorial in its opener Nov. 24 and lost to Bexley 58-48 on Nov. 27.
Ortiz had 16 points and Whitlock scored 11 against Bexley. Ashley King, a 6-2 freshman post player, had 11 points against Watkins Memorial. Ortiz did not play against the Warriors because of an injury.
"Courtney Jones is a good offensive player that should have a great senior season," Tufts said. "Her primary focus is on becoming a better defensive player. She already has a few options to play college ball, so we look forward to her making a decision in the near future.
"Alyssa Stanley is the kind of player that coaches love. She is a tough-nosed player that can do everything needed. If I need her to play point guard, she can do it. If I need her on the wing, she can do it. If I need her to play in the post, she can do it. She makes everyone around her want to work harder. She should also have a great senior season and have a few college scouts interested."
Also on the team are senior PyLynne Myers (post player), juniors Alexis Sanidad (guard) and Imaani Wilson (guard), sophomores Rachel Bernthold (wing player) and Kayla Martin (wing player) and freshmen Heather Colopy (guard), Crystal Jackson (6-2, post player), Peyton Law (wing player) and Sammy Sommerkamp (6-1, post player).
"Our strength is our returning varsity players," Tufts said. "Their knowledge, skill, and experience will help the younger players adjust to the speed and toughness of varsity basketball. We have to get to the point where our strength is our defense. We are not there, but we are striving to get to that point.
"Our concern is our younger player development. We have a lot of younger players with potential, but very soon potential has to take a back seat to production."