The last three seasons for the Pickerington High School North girls basketball team ended with losses in a Division I regional final, a state semifinal and a regional semifinal. As each of those season began, coach Dave Butcher had concerns.

The last three seasons for the Pickerington High School North girls basketball team ended with losses in a Division I regional final, a state semifinal and a regional semifinal. As each of those season began, coach Dave Butcher had concerns.

"We had question marks on what we could accomplish, what we'll run offensively and how we approach the defensive end," said Butcher, whose team opens Friday at home against Dresden Tri-Valley. "This year it's easier. The kids are familiar with the offense, familiar with our defensive sets and pretty comfortable in their roles, which is always critical."

The Panthers beat Tri-Valley 55-45 for Butcher's 20th consecutive Division I district title last year but lost to Dublin Coffman 61-43 in a regional semifinal to finish at 21-4. In the OCC-Central Division, North finished first at 10-0 ahead of runner-up Westerville Central at 8-2. North now is in the OCC-Ohio with Gahanna, Grove City, Groveport, Lancaster, Newark, Pickerington Central and Reynoldsburg.

The Panthers have eight returning letterwinners.

"Since those first couple years at North, this may be the most experienced team we've had," Butcher said. "We had a lot of girls play a lot of varsity minutes. The strength of our team, at least in the early season, is our backcourt."

North lost eight graduates, including frontcourt players Kelsey Price and Ashlen Stayrook and guard Jordan Smithberger.

Smithberger was Player of the Year in the OCC-Central. Stayrook was first-team all-OCC and honorable mention all-district.

Despite the loss of Smithberger, North returns senior guards Brittney Callahan (5-foot-8) and Brittany Gamby (5-7) and junior guard Nicole Olszewski (5-6).

Callahan started at point guard last season and averaged 8.0 points per game.

"(Butcher and I) have had discussions about where I'm playing this season," Callahan said. "Nicole Olszewski is a natural point guard. For coach Butcher, it is a win-win for him to have two players who can play point guard on the floor. No matter who brings up the ball, we will be a great team either way."

Callahan signed a letter of intent Nov. 14 with Northern Illinois and Gamby signed with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Gamby averaged 8.1 points last season and was an outside threat.

"I'm working on my quickness and defense," Gamby said. "I'm in a good groove shooting-wise. I need to work on my shot off the dribble."

Sophomore Shelby Olszewski (5-7) is the "fourth guard" according to Butcher.

"Shelby played a ton as a freshman," Butcher said. "Nicole had a nice summer and already has a lot of colleges looking at her as a junior. Michele Hare (5-9 junior guard) was a leading scorer on our junior varsity team last season and Tianni Kelly (5-10) can play guard or forward. I feel comfortable with our backcourt."

In the frontcourt, North does not have impressive size. That has become a common theme for the Panthers during the last six years. But what they lack in size, they make up for with depth.

"We will not drop off a significant amount if someone gets in foul trouble," Butcher said. "We're not blessed with a lot of size inside, but nobody in central Ohio is outside of Dublin Coffman and Pickerington Central. We don't have those players, but I feel we have four to five players we can play in the post, who can play hard and give up fouls."

Senior Jen Rennel (6-0 center) started in all 25 games last season and she returns in the middle. Kelly and Kavuna Edwards (5-11 forward) join Rennel in the starting frontcourt. Also expected to see time are seniors Lauren Volosin (5-7 guard), Rachel Snedegar (5-10 forward) and sophomore Jordan Householder (5-11 forward).

"Without a 6-2 or 6-3 go-to kid on our team, it's critical for our players to understand their roles," Butcher said. "We're tough, athletic and also mentally ready to handle the team concept, but our window of mistakes is very small. We are not a team that is going to rely on offensive rebounds and second-chance points, we've got to create offensive situations."

At a glance

•Coach: Dave Butcher, sixth season (26th overall)

•Opener: Friday vs. Dresden Tri-Valley

•Key players: Brittney Callahan, Brittany Gamby and Jen Rennel