With only two returning starters and a total of three returning letterwinners, Centennial High School girls basketball coach Darrin Green knew his team was going to be thin on experience.
What Green couldn't have foreseen was that all three of his returning players were going to miss a significant portion of the season because of injuries.
One returning starter, sophomore forward Marissa Robertson, will miss the season after tearing a knee ligament less than a week before the opener. The other returning starter, sophomore point guard Isabella Luaces, missed nine of the first 16 games with back and ankle injuries.
And senior forward Brook Briggs missed the first 16 games with a stress fracture in her ankle.
Despite those injuries, the Stars were 12-4 overall and 9-2 in the City League-North Division before playing Columbus East on Jan. 22.
"We haven't had any of our three returning players back for very long to lead us, and we haven't had a consistent roster all season because we've had a lot of other girls miss some games because of smaller injuries or other reasons," Green said. "When you look at all of the people we've been missing, starting 12-4 isn't bad."
Green said the key to his team's success has been playing good pressure defense.
Through 16 games, the Stars were 11-0 when giving up 44 or fewer points but 1-4 when giving up 52 or more.
"Our defense has been good and we've been improving all season," Green said. "We're a much better team when we pressure the ball, create turnovers and score in transition."
Freshman point guard Alyssa Dean was averaging a team-best 12.7 points through 16 games, followed by freshman guard DeAuja Thompson (12.2), senior forward Aubri Caslin (12.1), junior forward Brianne Stephenson (11.7), freshman guard Akiya Brown (5.9) and junior forward/center Aryn Brnusak (5.0).
"We have a freshman leading us in scoring and we've had three freshmen in our starting lineup at times this season," Green said. "We're still trying to find a stable lineup and get everyone adjusted to playing together, but I think we've done well so far."
After a 2-3 start, the Stars won 10 of their next 11 games. Centennial is 3-0 against teams from the OCC, defeating Westland 45-41 on Nov. 27, Dublin Jerome 45-44 in the Watterson Christmas Classic on Dec. 27 and Upper Arlington 60-53 on Jan. 17.
Against Jerome, Stephenson scored 10 of her game-high 16 points in the fourth quarter, and Caslin and Dean each scored nine points.
Against UA, Thompson and Stephenson each scored 14 points and Dean scored 11.
"We've shown a lot of resilience by beating three respectable OCC teams," Green said.
"Our win over Upper Arlington is probably the highlight of our season."
The Stars are set for a key league matchup Friday, Jan. 25, at Northland.
Northland defeated Centennial 69-44 on Dec. 4. Alexis Peterson scored 20 points, Aliyah Colvin scored 17 and Brooklyn Peterson scored 11 for the Vikings, while Luaces scored 10 and Dean scored nine for the Stars.
Northland was 13-3 overall and 11-0 in the City-North before playing Beechcroft on Jan. 22.
"We need to win this game and get some help from another team in our league to have a shot at winning the City title," Green said.
"We're both different teams since the last time we played Northland, and I hope we've improved more than they have. We need to take care of the ball and score off our defense. We need to be disciplined in everything we do and take care of all the little things."
Bowling squad beating expectations
The boys bowling team went 2-2 while competing on four consecutive days last week to move to 7-5 both overall and in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-Central Division.
Centennial defeated Whetstone 1,910-1,566 on Jan. 14.
The Stars also beat Columbus Academy 2,092-1,918 on Jan. 15, as Justin Taylor rolled games of 188 and 244 and Tyler Bastian rolled games of 233 and 175.
"We rolled our highest team score of the season against Columbus Academy," coach Brian Hamilton said. "After that match we have three young men (Bastian, Taylor and Russell Lewis Chambers) who have rolled over a 200 in a match and who are averaging in the 170s this season."
Centennial then lost to Grandview 2,079-1,829 on Jan. 16 and Hartley 1,991-1,843 on Jan. 17.
The Stars have league matches against Watterson on Friday, Jan. 25, at Sequoia Pro Bowl and St. Charles on Tuesday, Jan. 29, at HP Lanes.
"We want to bowl 2,000 or higher in these matches and win at least one more match so we can finish with a winning record," Hamilton said. "We're doing better than I thought we would, considering that we're rebuilding this year."
Girls swimmers win Stars Invitational
The girls swimming and diving team scored 366 points to win the seven-team Stars Invitational on Jan. 19 at Columbus Aquatics Center ahead of runner-up Olentangy Orange (362).
Lexie Herron won the 50-yard freestyle (26.82 seconds) and the 200 medley relay placed first (2:03.33).
The boys squad scored 231 points to place fourth of six teams behind Orange (296), Whetstone (240) and Northland (239).
Placing first were Aaron Maharry in the 50 free (23.53), Danny Schlosser in the 100 butterfly (1:03.34) and the 200 free relay (1:38).