The Olentangy Liberty High School girls basketball team continued what has been a steady climb under coach Ron Florey when it went 15-9 overall and reached a Division I district semifinal a year ago.
The hope of further progression was complicated during the preseason by injuries, but that could be something the Patriots can overcome in time if junior guard Hayley Hickman's assessment is correct.
"We have very, very athletic players and the younger players have been together since they were little," said Hickman, whose team opened Nov. 23 by beating Olentangy Orange 54-34 at home. "Our team chemistry and our effort should be strengths. The freshmen and sophomores have been on the same travel teams and definitely know each other."
Hickman, a 5-foot-9 guard, is among those poised to take on an increased role after averaging 3.3 points a year ago.
She is serving as a captain along with the only seniors in the program, 6-1 forward Emily Perry and 6-0 forward Melissa Veerman.
The leading returning scorer is 6-2 junior forward Kristen Levering, who committed to Miami University after averaging 7.8 points last season, when she was special mention all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Sophomore point guard Alexa Fisher (5-8) is the second-leading returning scorer after averaging 7.2 points a year ago, when she was honorable mention all-league.
During the preseason, however, Fisher and Perry missed time because of injuries and sophomores Samantha Krafty (5-1, guard) and Savitha Jayaraman (6-0, forward) were out with concussions.
Also looking to contribute are sophomores Sydney Carey (5-9, guard), Gracie Foth (5-5, guard), Taylor Hodak (5-6, guard), Lauren Hofer (5-9, forward) and Madison King (5-0, guard).
"I have 21 kids, including 17 who are freshmen and sophomores, and six kids that (couldn't play during the preseason)," said Florey, who is in his fourth season. "They're young and it's a MASH unit. Frustrating is a mild way of putting it. It's not their fault, but it's very frustrating. We've been very limited offensively and defensively because of injuries."
Liberty won five games in 2010-11 and went 10-12 in 2011-12 before reaching a district semifinal last season for the first time since its inaugural 2003-04 season when it competed in Division II.
The Patriots went 9-5 in the OCC-Central Division to place third behind co-champions Dublin Coffman and Hilliard Davidson (12-2).
The biggest losses to graduation were Kennedy Wilke, who averaged 10 points and made second-team all-league, Karla Levering (5.6 ppg) and Maddie Redwine (4.4 ppg).
The junior varsity team, which featured several members of this year's varsity, went 18-3 last season.
"We're going to be very, very young, but we do have some experience," Florey said. "Kristen Levering and Alexa Fisher earned some all-conference and all-Central District honors, but we do have to replace all of those points we lost. We did have a very good senior class last year."