A strong senior class could equate to success for the Olentangy Orange High School boys basketball team.
The Pioneers have eight seniors who have been playing together since middle school. They will try to improve on a 16-6 overall record from last season, when Orange lost to Reynoldsburg 45-37 in the second round of the Division I district tournament after defeating Canal Winchester 53-46 in the opening round.
"We have been playing together since the seventh grade and we have a lot of chemistry," said Nick Deitsch, a 6-foot-2 senior guard who averaged 11.7 points last season. "A lot of guys have been stepping up for us since we only have two starters back."
The other returning starter is senior Declan Feery, a 6-5 forward.
"We have been playing since middle school and we have built a lot of brotherhood," Feery said. "We know each other really well."
Now in their fifth season, the Pioneers have won three of four OCC-Capital Division championships. Last season, they tied Mount Vernon for the title at 11-3, followed by New Albany (10-4), Big Walnut (7-7), Delaware (7-7), Hilliard Bradley (6-8), Franklin Heights (3-11) and Watkins Memorial (1-13).
Olentangy has joined the OCC-Capital and Bradley moved to the OCC-Cardinal.
"We have been playing with more energy on defense and we're coming together as a team," first-year coach Anthony Calo said. "These kids have been playing together for a while and are really starting to come together. We also have been more consistent in our approach."
In addition to Deitsch and Feery, players with varsity experience include seniors Brandon Blake (5-11, point guard), Tyler Dillard (6-4, forward) and Brady Harris (6-4, post player). Deitsch was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league a year ago.
The other seniors are Cole Gabalis (6-4, forward), Jarrod Gilliam (6-3, post player) and Hunter Jenkins (5-9, guard).
"We have some guys who were first off of the bench and now they are coming in and starting," Feery said. "Tyler Dillard, Brandon Blake and Brady Harris are guys in that role. They have varsity experience, which is something you need because the pace of the game is so much faster."
Rounding out the roster are juniors Dave Dawson (6-3, guard), Andrew Peura (6-2, forward) and Chase Mosher (5-10, guard) and freshmen Haydn Audsley (6-5, post player) and Grant Gossard (6-6, post player).
"The seniors were 19-1 as sophomores, so they know how to play the game," Calo said. "I like our length, and our bench guys are doing a good job. That's important because foul problems and injuries are always a concern."
Calo is the son of longtime Westerville South coach Ed Calo. He replaced the program's only previous coach, John Betz, who now is Orange's athletics director.
Orange opened Dec. 1 with a 65-39 win at Beechcroft. The Pioneers begin league play Friday, Dec. 7, at home against New Albany.