Having returned his top three players, Westland High School girls basketball coach Hugo Quint is looking for his team improve on last season.
The Cougars finished 6-15 overall and 2-12 in the OCC-Central Division a year ago. They ended the season by losing to seventh-seeded Olentangy 52-42 in the first round of the Division I district tournament.
"Most of our kids have done a hell of a job working hard, so they are going to reap the benefits," Quint said. "We have four goals that we always try to do. (No.) 1 is to play as hard as we can, (No.) 2 is to play smart, (No.) 3 (is) to play together as a team and (No.) 4 is to have fun."
Quint is in second season in his second tenure with the program. He guided the Cougars for 10 seasons beginning in 1995, compiling a 145-80 record before resigning after the 2004-05 season.
Westland was 0-2 before opening OCC-Central play Nov. 30 against Central Crossing and facing Columbus West on Dec. 1. It lost to Pickerington Central 57-48 on Nov. 23 and Centennial 45-41 on Nov. 27.
The Cougars travel to Marysville for a league contest Friday, Dec. 7.
"I believe we are much better this year," 5-foot-7 junior forward Christina Simpson said. "We have to play as a team and play smart. That's going to separate us from winning and losing."
Simpson, 5-7 junior guard Tanesha Dixon and 5-11 sophomore post player Hunter Kershaw are expected to lead the Cougars.
Last season, Simpson averaged a team-high 14 points and 11 rebounds and was named special mention all-league and honorable mention all-district. Dixon averaged eight points and 10 rebounds and was honorable mention all-league and all-district.
Simpson scored 16 points against Pickerington Central but left the game in the fourth quarter with a right knee injury. She missed the game against Centennial and it was unclear when she would return to the lineup.
"We played hard (against Pickerington Central), but we sure didn't play smart," said Quint, whose team led the Tigers 40-25 late in the third quarter and was outscored 29-8 in the fourth quarter. "We bailed them out."
Dixon had 14 points against Pickerington Central and scored 12 against Centennial. Rachelle Marcum, a 5-7 junior forward, had a team-high 13 points against Centennial and Kershaw scored 10 against the Stars.
Also on the team are senior Megan Garbrandt (5-10, post player), junior Nicole Weber (5-9, forward), sophomores Savannah Badillo (5-5, forward), Sarah Demana (5-4, guard), Jaide Douglas (5-2, guard) and Brianna Taylor (5-5, guard) and freshman Cam-eron Moreno (5-9, forward).
"We have tried to find who our sixth and seventh players are going to be and our sophomores have not stepped up," Quint said. "Megan helped us a little bit (against Pickerington Central). We need a hybrid type player who can help handle the basketball. We have four sophomores who can do that, but we haven't had anybody step up yet."
Westland placed seventh in the OCC-Central last season, behind Dublin Coffman (13-1), Upper Arlington (12-2), Central Crossing (11-3), Hilliard Davidson (7-7), Thomas Worthington (6-8) and Hilliard Darby (4-10) and ahead of Worthington Kilbourne (1-13).
As part of OCC realignment last summer, Darby and Kilbourne moved to the OCC-Cardinal and were replaced by Marysville and Olentangy Liberty, both of which had been in the OCC-Cardinal.
"We want the other teams to have respect for us," Simpson said. "The other teams think we're not just an easy win anymore. They actually have to try (to win). It's at least going to be a tough game for them."