The Pickerington High School Central girls basketball roster features at least 10 players who saw some varsity time a year ago.
Little else about the Tigers' season was certain as they opened Nov. 23 by beating host Westland 57-48 under new coach James Stutzman. A few days before the opener, Stutzman, who came to Central after nine years at Washington Court House Miami Trace, wasn't making any predictions about how his team would look at any point this season.
"You would like to hitch your wagon on being a fast-break (team), being an in-your-face man (-to-man defensive) team or being a zone team, whatever it is, then just drill that into their heads and into the system," Stutzman said. "But as it turns out, that's not always successful. It's always been better to read your talent. Even within the year, if things start clicking well, then we change from a slower tempo to faster, or the reverse.
"That's the biggest thing. We're just trying to see how we'll succeed."
Stutzman replaced Angelita Forte, who resigned over the summer after one season. His Miami Trace teams won four district championships and reached the Division II state tournament in 2010, losing 57-46 to Kettering Alter in a semifinal.
"Coach Stutzman makes us disciplined," 5-foot-10 junior forward Kiana Thomas said. "We know when we mess up, there are going to be consequences for it. Being a much more disciplined team this year should benefit us in the long run."
The Tigers finished 7-14 overall last year and went 6-8 in the OCC-Ohio Division, fifth behind champion Reynoldsburg (14-0), Pickerington North (12-2), Gahanna (9-5) and Newark (8-6) and ahead of Lancaster (5-9), Grove City (2-12) and Groveport (0-14).
Central lost to eighth-seeded Central Crossing 30-25 in the first round of the Division I district tournament, a game it led 8-0 in the first two minutes, 12-5 after one quarter and 17-10 at halftime.
The crux of that team returns, led by 5-7 senior guard Phylicia Johnson. She averaged a team-best 8.3 points last year and led the team in scoring 14 times while being named honorable mention all-league.
Other returnees include senior Brianna Collins (5-7, guard), juniors Aajah Hawkins (5-8, guard), Amari Hawkins (5-8, guard), Allie Luther (5-8, forward), Sky Mullins (5-6, guard) and Kiara Thomas (5-7, forward) and sophomores Taylor Johnson (5-8, guard) and Katrina Williams (5-6, guard).
New to varsity are juniors Chantell Ballard (5-6, forward) and sophomore Bridget Short (5-4, guard).
"The quickness, the ability, we have quite a bit of that here," Stutzman said. "We think we can thrive with the number of athletes here. But it is a little bit more structured, a little bit more disciplined than what a few of them are used to."
Central's league opener is Friday, Nov. 30, at Gahanna. The home opener is Tuesday, Dec. 4, against Olentangy Liberty.
For now, some of the Tigers are hanging their hat on being defensive-oriented.
"We're really good at that," Ballard said. "We're really put together and we know where to be."