The Westerville Central High School boys basketball team is preparing to embark on what ninth-year coach Todd Minney calls a "journey."

The Westerville Central High School boys basketball team is preparing to embark on what ninth-year coach Todd Minney calls a "journey."

Last season, the Warhawks had a late-season nine-game winning streak and reached a Division I district final, where they lost to Northland 65-62 to finish 17-7 overall. It was Central's second consecutive district final appearance, as the Warhawks also lost to the Vikings in 2010, 61-42.

The Warhawks begin pursuit of their first district title when they open Friday, Dec. 2, at home against St. Charles. They then start OCC-Cardinal Division play at home against defending champion Westerville South on Tuesday, Dec. 6.

"Our goals aren't going to change a whole lot," Minney said. "We want to battle and compete for a league title. Our goal is to be as competitive every single day in practice and let the rest take care of itself. This journey is going to be exciting. It's a brand new start with a new group. You have to be excited about the journey."

Among the key returnees for Central is 6-foot-3 senior guard Christian Graves, whom Minney calls one of the best shooters in the state. Last season, Graves averaged 8.0 points and was named honorable mention all-league.

The other returnees are seniors Jared Edens (6-0, guard), Max Shawver (6-0, forward) and Tre Stennett (5-10, guard), who will share captain duties with Graves.

Shawver averaged 8.0 points last season and Stennett and Edens averaged 4.0 and 3.0 points, respectively.

Also on the team are seniors Kieran Furness (6-3, post player) and Joel Sutphin (6-0, guard), juniors Jack Birkhofer (6-5, post player), Charles Carmon (5-10, guard) and Joleon Merchant (6-4, post player) and sophomores Eric James (6-4, forward) and Jalen Malone (5-11, guard).

Furness is a transfer from South and Carmon is a transfer from DeSales.

"We have a lot of guys coming back who have played together," Edens said. "Most of us have played together for four years and the cohesion is there this year. We're always building on team goals. We're looking to be competitive in the league, beat (Westerville) North, beat South like every year, and just look to be competitive."

Minney is counting on the captains to provide leadership.

"This is a fun group," he said. "We get to bring back a lot of quality seniors. We talked all summer about leadership and what their individual leader-ship roles will be for all four of them. They've held themselves pretty true so far on what they need to be accountable for."

Minney also is looking for players to pick up the offensive slack, as the Warhawks lost three of their leading scorers from a year ago to graduation in guard Kamorin Harris, point guard Quentin Henderson and post player Nick Vannett, who is playing football at Ohio State.

Harris led the team in scoring, averaging 13.3 points, and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Henderson averaged 13 points and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district and Vannett averaged 11.3 points and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.

The Warhawks went 10-4 in the OCC-Cardinal last season to tie North and Olentangy Liberty for second, behind South (13-1) and ahead of Dublin Jerome (4-10), Dublin Scioto (4-10), Olentangy (3-11) and Marysville (2-12).

Minney expects North, South and Liberty to contend for the league title this season, and he hopes his team is in the mix as well.

"Our league is going to be tough," Minney said. "It's as strong as any of the OCC divisions."