First-year Licking Heights High School girls basketball coach Tay Tufts spent time during the holiday break reviewing game film with his players.
"You can go over it in practice a thousand times and you can tell them what they're doing wrong a thousand times, but until they see it, it doesn't sink in sometimes," he said. "When you show them game film, they can see it themselves."
According to Tufts, the Hornets struggled with their man-to-man defense and did not take advantage of opportunities to push the tempo in a 46-44 loss to Berne Union on Dec. 21 and in both of their games in the Warrior Classic on Dec. 27 and 29 at Harvest Prep.
The loss to Berne Union snapped a three-game winning streak. The Hornets then lost to Worthington Christian 68-31 on Dec. 27 before beating Whitehall 44-41 on Dec. 29.
"We were sluggish in the tournament, and we didn't play well on the defensive end at all," Tufts said. "We watched the film and then we spent quite a few days working primarily on defensive principles. Hopefully, that will get us back to where we need to be.
"What seems to be happening too frequently is that we'll have three girls playing good, solid defense and one will get caught sleeping. It's hard to play good team defense if you can't trust everyone to be in the proper defensive positions."
The players continue to adjust to the aggressive man-to-man defense and transition offense introduced by Tufts, who is the Hornets' third coach in as many seasons.
"The girls questioned whether they could play man defense because they hadn't done it since seventh grade," he said. "They know they can now. It's just a matter of not falling back into old habits. The same is true with our transition game. These girls are used to walking the ball up the floor because that's what they were taught and it's the way they've played for many years. Those are the two keys for us moving forward. I think you'll see a different team the second half of the season."
Licking Heights also did not have the services of its leading scorer, 6-foot senior post player Courtney Jones, in recent weeks. She was sidelined for the loss to Berne Union, both games in the Warrior Classic and a 38-32 win over Lakewood on Dec. 18 with an injury.
"She's capable of putting up 15 to 20 points per game, and any team would struggle some if they took that out of their offense," Tufts said. "However, our two bigs (6-2 freshmen Ashley King and Crystal Jackson) have played well and I can only imagine how good they'll be together in the future once we mesh."
Skyler Ortiz had 19 points and Damaris Whitlock scored 13 against Whitehall. Alyssa Stanley had a team-high eight points against Worthington Christian and Whitlock (13) and King (11) led the way against Berne Union.
"We're getting contributions from everybody, but we need even more to step up," Tufts said.
"We need that transition offense to kick in to get everyone involved and get some points before defenses set up. We've got five girls on the team who run track, including four who compete in the 100 meters, so I know we can run. It's just the mindset that must change.'
Boys squad still learning to finish
The boys basketball team has benefitted from fast starts to games, including in a 72-66 victory over visiting Watkins Memorial in the "Battle for Broad Street" on Dec. 28.
John Righter and Babe Murphy both scored 25 points to lead Licking Heights, which led 23-13 after the first quarter.
"We've been starting quick all season," coach Nathan Clark said.
"We've gotten ahead of teams. We've told the boys that the first and third quarters are most important. We want to establish what we want to do. The third quarter is important in terms of adjusting to the opponents' halftime adjustments."
The margin of victory against Watkins Memorial was Licking Heights' slimmest through eight games and followed a 78-71 win over West Jefferson on Dec. 22. Its only setback through eight games was a 62-53 loss to Granville in its opener Nov. 30.
The Hornets were 7-1 overall and 4-0 in the MSL-Cardinal Division before playing Berne Union on Jan. 4.
"We've got to learn how to put teams away," Clark said. "We had a 19-point lead against West Jefferson and a 17-point lead against Watkins, and we let both of them stay in the game. We took quick shots on one end and let them get to the rim on the other. We were playing not to lose rather than playing to win."
Murphy had 23 points, Righter scored 21 and Willie Carter scored 10 against West Jefferson. DeAnthony Hosley and Doug Benniefield added nine and eight points, respectively.
"We obviously do a lot around John because of his shooting and around Babe because he can get to the rim," Clark said. "But I've been really pleased to get strong play around them. Ty Green, DeAnthony Hosley, Willie Carter, Doug Benniefield and Dante Burnette are getting steals, assists, rebounds and playing good defense and they're occasionally providing eight or 10 points. That's what we'll need down the road -- third and fourth scoring options."
Wrestling team places sixth in County tourney
Ty Yeager and A.J. Velasquez won their weight classes as the wrestling team finished sixth in the 11-team Licking County Invitational on Dec. 29 at home.
Northridge scored 276 points to win the tournament. Licking Valley (250) was second, followed by Watkins Memorial (208.5), Granville (201), Newark Catholic (165), Licking Heights (120), Lakewood (87), Heath (86.5), Utica (66), Johnstown (54.5) and Newark (19).
Yeager pinned Newark Catholic's Jake Smith in 1 minute, 22 seconds in the championship match at 132 pounds, and Velasquez defeated Licking Valley's Bo Redman 12-7 in the final at 220.
Brandon Haist reached the final at 113, losing 15-0 to Newark Catholic's Caleb Ohl.
The Hornets will play host to the Licking Heights Invitational on Friday, Jan. 11, and Saturday, Jan. 12.