On first glance, the New Albany High School girls basketball team seems to have all the tools in place for a landmark season.
The Eagles return six seniors and all but one player from a team that went 17-6 overall and 12-2 in the OCC-Capital Division last year. New Albany lost to second-seeded Pickerington North 48-34 in a Division I district semifinal.
"That left us with a lot of motivation," said senior point guard Hannah Scipio, a University of Akron signee who is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee sustained in the closing minutes against North. "We just want to be so much better than we were last year. We feel like this is our year to do it."
New Albany hasn't won a district title since it captured consecutive ones in 2002 (Division III and the program's first) and 2003 (Division II). The Eagles lost a 2003 state semifinal 67-41 to Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph, a year after losing 49-31 to Versailles in a regional semifinal.
The Eagles are under the guidance of first-year coach Jeff Blunt, a former Otterbein University assistant who replaced Jamie Puryear, who resigned March 5 after five seasons.
"It's a little different role (than) in college, where it's more sales and less teaching," Blunt said. "I was anxious to do a little more teaching of the game and I think I have a great opportunity to impact kids' lives and help them learn the game here. I'm anxious to do that."
With Scipio -- a three-year starter who averaged a team-best 13.3 points and 5.7 assists last year and was first-team all-district and honorable mention all-state -- likely to miss the first few weeks, the projected starters are senior guards Chrissy Harris (second-team all-league) and Cheyenne Hartley-Carr (special-mention all-league), senior forwards Meghan Jayes and Emily Rolwing (honorable mention all-league) and 6-foot-3 forward/center Kyasia Duling, a Duquesne signee.
Duling, a first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district selection last year, averaged 11.2 points and a team-high 10.3 rebounds.
Other contributors should include junior guards Jackie Drago, Lexi Simpson, Abbie Skowron and Ally Vendetti, sophomores Taylor Snook (guard) and Kyra Zuiderwig (forward) and freshmen Caitlin Coss (guard) and Meche'la Cobb (wing player).
Junior Kaitlyn Gliha did not return this season, choosing to concentrate on softball.
New Albany opened by losing to Central Crossing 37-31 in the Gary West Tipoff Classic on Nov. 23 at Reynoldsburg. The Eagles' home and league opener is Friday, Nov. 30, against Mount Vernon.
Last year, New Albany finished two games behind league champion Olentangy Orange (14-0) and ahead of Hilliard Bradley (9-5), Big Walnut (7-7), Delaware (7-7), Watkins Memorial (4-10), Mount Vernon (3-11) and Franklin Heights (0-14).
Bradley has moved to the OCC-Cardinal and was replaced by Olentangy, which won the OCC-Cardinal last year at 13-1.
"Last year, we played slow to stay in games," Duling said. "We'd mix things up, slow the game down and play our own pace. This year, we'll speed it up and get down the court faster. Hopefully we can transfer over easily."