The Westerville North High School boys basketball team returned to the court with a vengeance.
In their first game back since a 66-65 loss to Eastmoor Academy in their opener Dec. 3, the Warriors defeated Hilliard Darby 63-45 on Dec. 11 in an OCC-Cardinal Division contest that was rescheduled from Dec. 6 because of bad weather.
The victory started a three-game winning streak and was the first win for coach Shan Trusley, who replaced the retired Kevin Thuman after 18 seasons.
"It was a good feeling for everyone and it's always nice to get that first win of the season," said Trusley, whose team led 13-8 after one quarter and 27-13 at halftime. "The kids did an incredible job. We needed to come out and take control early, and we did that. It was a total team effort.
"I was excited for them to get that first win. For all but a couple players, it was the first opportunity for them to get their first varsity win."
The Warriors, who are 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the OCC-Cardinal entering their matchup Friday, Dec. 20, at Westerville Central, have a team filled with players new to the varsity game.
Senior guard Isaiah Keene and senior forward R.J. Hutcherson are the only returnees with much varsity experience. They saw limited action a year ago behind a 2013 senior class that included the team's top three scorers in Jack Gibbs (15.2 points per game), Jaylen Benton (14.9) and Adrian Cook (11.0).
Senior Alex Stewart, a 6-foot-5 center and two-year letterwinner who averaged 10.8 points last season, has left the team because of lingering health-related conditions.
Hutcherson led the Warriors with 17 points against Darby and Keene had 15 points with four 3-pointers. Senior forward Justin Bennett scored 12 points and junior guard Austin Armwood had seven points.
"We had a really good game against Eastmoor, but the loss left a bad taste in our mouths," Trusley said. "The toughest thing for the kids was to get rid of that loss that was stuck in our minds for a while. The kids wanted to get back out there on the floor."
Senior guard Corey Benton scored 15 points to lead a balanced attack in a 59-50 league win over Dublin Scioto on Dec. 13. Keene scored 14 points, Hutcherson had 10 points and senior guard Brian Chaney scored nine points on three 3-pointers.
"We have been practicing really well, and if we practice well, we play well," Trusley said. "We weren't allowed to practice (Dec. 6) because of the snow, but we have had some good practices and we have been playing well."
On Dec. 14, North defeated previously unbeaten Olentangy Liberty 65-47. Benton scored 16 points, Keene had 15 with three 3s, Hutcherson scored 14 and Armwood had 12.
"Our defense has been a pleasant surprise," Trusley said. "We thought we would be good defensively, but not as good as we have been. Against Darby, we started the game with an 11-0 run and (the Panthers) only had 13 at halftime. I've been happy with our defense."
Girls team remains unbeaten in league
The girls team is 3-4 overall but improved to 3-0 in the OCC-Cardinal by defeating Scioto 74-35 on Dec. 13.
Junior guard/forward Symone Simmons led with 19 points, sophomore guard Megan Bellner scored 12 and sophomore guard Ronni Royer added eight.
"We have played a tough schedule without three of our key players," coach Jim Kloepfer said. "But we are still unbeaten in the league and we hope to get some players back after the first of the year."
The Warriors are missing two returning starters with injuries in senior guard Kelsey Walker (knee) and junior forward Devin Jackson (ankle).
According to Kloepfer, Walker is expected to return to practice Monday, Dec. 23, and be back for a league game Jan. 3 at Hilliard Bradley. Jackson is expected to return in early January.
North also lost sophomore guard DeeDee Post to a broken thumb.
Junior guard Hannah Ferguson had 14 points and junior guard Anna Gibbs scored 13 as the Warriors lost their opener to DeSales 64-53 on Nov. 26. Simmons added 11 points.
North won its league opener 60-36 over Westerville South on Nov. 29 as Simmons scored 15 points and Ferguson and Gibbs added nine apiece.
In a 48-42 loss at Washington Court House Miami Trace on Nov. 30, Ferguson had 13 points and Simmons added 12. Simmons and Ferguson had 13 points apiece and Gibbs added 11 in a 65-50 loss to Africentric on Dec. 4.
On Dec. 9, North defeated Darby 58-19 as Simmons scored 21 points and Ferguson had 10.
Simmons had 18 points in a 55-35 loss to Pickerington Central on Dec. 10.
"We played well against Africentric, and Pickerington Central is a very senior-dominated team that we didn't shoot well against," Kloepfer said. "I've been pretty happy with our effort, especially being able to bounce back against Scioto."