Senior guard Alyssa Stanley of the Licking Heights High School girls basketball team was shocked when her coach first approached her about changing her role and going from being a starter to coming off the bench.
"I have been a starter on varsity since my freshman year, so I just couldn't believe (first-year coach Shuntay Tufts) was even asking me to do that," Stanley said. "But when he described to me that I would be more versatile and could play nearly every position on the floor, I liked that."
The move has paid dividends for the Hornets, as they won eight of their next 10 games after losing their first five. Licking Heights was 8-7 overall and 4-3 in the MSL-Cardinal Division before playing Liberty Union on Jan. 19.
The Hornets defeated Grandview 57-52 in a league contest Jan. 15. Stanley scored 12 points off the bench in support of junior guards Dameras Whitlock and Skyler Ortiz, who had 19 and 13 points, respectively.
"I think a lot of the credit to the way we have turned things around goes to the girls for buying into the system and staying the course even through a rough beginning when they had doubts," Tufts said. "I think Alyssa Stanley typifies that best. She accepted her role and, rather than getting upset about it, she made the best of it and it has really sparked our team.
"She's playing four positions, depending on the opponent, who gets into foul trouble and who needs a breather. She used to take a backseat as a starter because Skyler Ortiz and Dameras Whitlock are our scorers. Now when she goes in and either of those two are out, she knows she has to score as well as all the other things she does for us. Plus, she has fresh legs coming off the bench and going against substitutes on the other team and she's more talented than they are. She's our (Most Valuable Player)."
Stanley isn't the only Hornets player who has had to make an adjustment. Courtney Jones, a 6-foot post player, had been a starter since her freshman season. But like Stanley, she now comes off the bench.
"Courtney has also accepted her role, although she was injured and was working her way back," Tufts said. "But she has joined Alyssa to give us added punch off the bench."
In addition to the lineup changes, the Hornets have had to buy into a new system that features a full-court defense and a transition offense. The players initially struggled with those strategic and philosophical changes and that contributed to the team's 0-5 start.
"The kids and even some of my staff were questioning my system early on," Tufts said. "When we were 0-5, the kids were talking about us winning eight games last season and questioning whether we would even come close to that this year. But once we started to have some success, they slowly started to buy in and now there's kudos coming from students, faculty and the community.
"Now, when I pull off the press, the girls still want to press. I think once our conditioning improved, their mindset changed."
The Hornets' starting lineup now consists of Whitlock at point guard, Ortiz and junior Alexis Sanidad at guards and 6-2 freshman post players Crystal Jackson and Ashley King.
Through 14 games, Ortiz was averaging a team-high 12.5 points, followed by Jones (10.2), Whitlock (8.6), Stanley (5.2), King (2.3) and Sanidad (2.0).
King was averaging a team-best 11.5 rebounds, followed by Jones (5.0), Ortiz (4.5) and Whitlock (4.0). Whitlock also was averaging 4.2 steals and four assists and King was averaging two blocks.
"They believe in themselves and the system and they're playing together as a unit," Tufts said. "They went from wondering whether they would win eight games to possibly finishing with one of the best seasons ever at Licking Heights."
Boys basketball team continues to win
The boys basketball team extended its winning streak to 11 games with a 66-61 victory over Lakewood on Jan. 15.
The Hornets, who were 11-1 overall and 6-0 in the MSL-Cardinal before playing Harvest Prep on Jan. 18, had to hang on for the victory, as they were outscored by the Lancers 26-18 in the fourth quarter.
Guards Babe Murphy and John Righter both had 18 points against Lakewood and guard DeAnthony Hosley scored 15.
Through 11 games, Murphy was averaging a team-high 18.9 points, followed by Righter (18.7) and Hosley (8.0). Murphy also was averaging 7.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.6 steals and was shooting 51 percent (76-for-149) from the field, Righter was averaging 2.6 assists and steals and was shooting 49.3 percent (68-for-138) from the field, including 50.8 percent (30-for-59) from 3-point range, and Hosley was averaging 3.3 assists and was shooting 52.1 percent (37-for-71) from the field.
In addition, guard Tyshad Green was averaging 6.1 points and 2.4 rebounds, forward Doug Benniefield was averaging six points and five rebounds and was shooting 61.4 percent (26-for-42) from the field, forward Dante Burnette was averaging 5.6 points and was shooting 61.5 percent (24-for-39) from the field and forward Willie Carter was averaging 5.6 points and was shooting 63.8 percent (30-for-47) from the field.
Murphy had 26 points and Righter scored 15 in an 80-57 league win over Millersport on Jan. 8 and Murphy and Righter had 22 and 21 points, respectively, in an 88-34 league win over Fisher Catholic on Jan. 12.
Wrestlers preparing for state team tourney
The wrestling team will compete against host Licking Valley in the first round of the inaugural Division II state team tournament on Wednesday, Jan. 23.
The Hornets are seeded sixth of seven teams in Region 13-A of the dual-format tournament and Licking Valley is the third seed.
The winner faces second-seeded Granville or seventh-seeded Logan Elm in the second round Jan. 30 at a site to be announced. The regional semifinals also will be held that day at the same site.
Also in Region 13-A are top-seeded Circleville, fourth-seeded Hamilton Township and fifth-seeded Chillicothe. The semifinal winner faces the Region 13-B champion in a regional final Feb. 6 at a site to be announced.
The regional champion advances to a state quarterfinal Feb. 9.
"We're super young and we're battling injuries right now, so I know for a fact we won't fill at least three weight classes," coach Bo Ramsey said. "We look at is as just another match for our young guys and a good experience for all of the guys.
"Licking Valley has district qualifiers up and down the lineup and four or five are real studs. But competition is much better than being in the practice room on a Wednesday evening."
The Hornets finished 12th in the 17-team Licking Heights Invitational on Jan. 12 behind champion Whitehall (239). Westerville North (233) and Granville (213) finished second and third, respectively.
Anthony Haist placed third at 106 pounds and Brandon Haist (113) and Michael Zaky (heavyweight) both placed fifth.
Ty Yeager was 14-2 at 132 before the Hornets participated in the Robin Drumm Invitational on Jan. 19 at Heath. He did not compete in the Licking Heights Invitational.