With three Division I college signees among a veteran returning cast, the Reynoldsburg High School girls basketball team again appears to have the pieces in place to be one of the state's top teams.
Staying grounded following what might have been the greatest season in program history is something junior post player Alyssa Rice believes is part of the process.
"Right now, we're just trying to focus on what we need to do," she said. "We're trying to stay level-headed and work on what we need to work on."
The Raiders have gone a combined 70-9 over the last three seasons and made Division I state semifinal appearances in 2010 and last season. They went undefeated in the regular season for the first time a year ago and finished 26-1 overall.
Rice, a 6-foot-3 post player who averaged 12.1 points and 7.4 rebounds while making first-team all-district and the ThisWeek Super 12 last winter, is among a group of returnees that also includes seniors Destini Cooper (6-1), Yamonie Jenkins (5-6) and Shiloh Murphy (5-9).
Earlier this month, Cooper (10 points per game, 7.4 rebounds) and Jenkins (5.7 ppg, 5.6 assists) signed to play for Ohio University and Murphy (6.3 ppg, 3.7 rebounds) signed with Morehead State.
According to 11th-year coach Jack Purtell, Rice is considering offers from Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Stanford, Virginia and West Virginia.
The Raiders also got a boost in the offseason from the addition of junior twins Nicole Orr (5-10) and Natalie Orr (5-7), who transferred from Whitehall. Nicole Orr made second-team all-district in Division II last season.
Juniors Shanice Johnson (5-8) and De'Shay Thomas (5-6) are others who should contribute after gaining varsity experience a year ago.
Also looking for playing time are sophomores Chandlar Hines (5-7), Sherice Kelley (5-8), Hannah Leppla (5-9) and Courtney Purtell (5-9).
"We have a lot of veterans that came back from the state team last year, and Nicole and Natalie have bonded well with us so far," Jenkins said. "We just have little things to work on."
The Raiders went 14-0 each of the last two seasons in OCC-Ohio Division play to win titles. They were followed in the league race last year by Pickerington North (12-2), Gahanna (9-5), Newark (8-6), Pickerington Central (6-8), Lancaster (5-9), Grove City (2-12) and Groveport (0-14).
Reynoldsburg beat Groveport (90-32), Franklin Heights (109-15), Watterson (66-33) and Olentangy (56-31) to win its third consecutive district title. It beat Canton McKinley 62-57 and Northland 47-37 in the regional tournament.
The Raiders then lost 49-41 in a state semifinal to Twinsburg, which they will face Jan. 21 in the Classic in the Country at Berlin Hiland.
Aliyah Zantt, a three-year starter and 2012 graduate who averaged 11.1 points and also made the Super 12 last year, signed with Xavier. The only other key player lost from that team was Adesuwa Aideyman (10 ppg).
Twinsburg, which went on to win the Division I state title, headlines a schedule that coach Purtell put together to challenge his team.
The Raiders opened by beating Dayton Carroll 55-41 on Nov. 23 and Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown 45-35 on Nov. 24 in the home Gary West Tipoff Classic.
Last season in Division II, Carroll was a regional finalist and Hathaway Brown won its fourth consecutive state title.
"We're meshing really well," Rice said. "Our two new transfers are fitting in really well. We're getting stronger and with the maturity we all have, we're happy and excited to get the season started."
•OF NOTE -- The man for whom the Gary West Tipoff Classic was named died last weekend, according to Purtell.
Purtell said West was the statistician for more than 1,100 basketball games at Reynoldsburg. He performed that role for the girls program for the last 15 years.
"He was passionate about our whole school district and paid back in many ways, volunteering thousands of hours for our children," Purtell said.