Jim Kloepfer has many reasons to feel optimistic about his 10th season as coach of the Westerville North High School girls basketball team.
The Warriors won their final six regular-season games last year before losing to Hilliard Bradley 60-42 in the opening round of the Division I district tournament to finish 12-9 overall.
North has most of its nucleus back from last season, including four starters and three letterwinners who saw significant varsity time, leading Kloepfer to believe the Warriors could be a team on the rise.
"We're still young, but we have a lot of varsity experience from last year," he said. "This group of players is starting to believe in themselves and that they have the talent to be one of the elite teams in the Central District."
Last season, the Warriors finished third (9-5) in the OCC-Cardinal Division behind Olentangy (13-1) and Dublin Scioto (11-3) and ahead of Dublin Jerome (8-6), Westerville South (8-6), Olentangy Liberty (5-9), Marysville (2-12) and Westerville Central (0-14).
The league now includes Bradley, Hilliard Darby and Worthington Kilbourne. Olentangy moved to the OCC-Capital, and Liberty and Marysville went to the OCC-Central.
Sophomore Symone Simmons, a 5-foot-8 guard/forward, led North in scoring (12.2 points per game) and rebounding (7.8 per game) last season and was honorable mention all-district and first-team all-league. Sophomore Devin Jackson (5-9, forward/guard) averaged 8.0 points and 6.9 rebounds and was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league. Senior point guard Breyonia Hearn (5-1, honorable mention all-league) led in assists (2.4) and steals (2.9) per game while averaging 6.2 points.
"I feel like I have to lead this year as a senior and set a good example by working hard in practice and playing hard in games," said Hearn, who is in her third season as a starter. "We all get along and we play well together. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses and that can help a lot."
Sophomore Anna Gibbs (5-5, guard) was a part-time starter last season. Junior Kelsey Walker (5-7, forward) averaged 5.1 points coming off the bench along with senior Gabrielle Pace (5-7, guard/forward) and sophomore Hannah Ferguson (5-5, guard).
Rounding out the roster are senior Jasmine Johnson (5-3, guard) and juniors Alley Speed (5-3, guard) and Tierra Streater (5-8, post player).
"They have worked hard to improve their overall team shooting," Kloepfer said. "Rebounding is something we need to work on. We have to box out because we don't have the size of some teams, but if we can out-rebound a team, we have a good chance of winning."
The Warriors opened Nov. 24 with a 75-55 win at New Carlisle Tecumseh. They begin league play Friday, Nov. 30, at Westerville South.
"In the offseason and preseason, this is probably the hardest working group of girls I have ever had at North," Kloepfer said. "They were always asking when was the next open gym. They want to be in the gym.
"They are always working hard to improve on their skills. They are a hard-working group, they are high-energy and they are a close-knit group."