New Albany High School girls basketball coach Jeff Blunt smiled and called this year's team "weird" during a recent practice, largely because of its overall dynamic.

The Eagles have seven seniors, but only three of them have considerable varsity experience. Four sophomores lettered last year and one of them -- 5-foot-6 guard Haley Dennis -- started all 23 games.

New Albany also does not have any players taller than 6-2, and that means the Eagles will try to capitalize on their athleticism with an up-tempo approach and versatility.

"It's a weird group, honestly," said Blunt, whose seventh season began Nov. 27 at Licking Heights. "We have seven seniors but we're inexperienced in those ranks, believe it or not. We have Josie (Smith) who has played a lot. Katie (Cacchillo) and Sophia (Orsinelli) got a little bit of time last year, but the other four didn't play a lot of varsity minutes. ...

"When we play more athletic, picking up the pace and pressuring more, we create a lot of success. We'll have to be different (from previous seasons). We'll have to play more numbers. We'll have to press the ball more."

Smith, a 6-foot-1 guard/forward who signed with Indiana University of Pennsylvania on Nov. 14, averaged 13.0 points and 7.1 rebounds as a junior and was named second-team all-OCC-Capital Division and honorable mention all-district.

Smith and 6-2 junior forward Maddy Hofmann will have to pick up the slack inside that was lost to graduation with Micaylah Nash, who averaged 9.9 points and 11.6 rebounds last year. The Eagles went 13-10 overall and 6-4 in the league.

Smith missed most of the preseason because of a right ankle injury but expected to be healthy by the beginning of the season.

"With a motion offense, it gives me a lot more freedom to go inside whenever the defenses switch or there's a mismatch," Smith said. "Our personalities are coming out. We get to see girls attack more and put themselves in better positions for the team. (With) the freshmen (from) last year, having that year under their belt is a huge help, knowing what's expected of them and having more of a voice."

Other returning sophomores are guards Kelis Brown (5-7), Brooklyn Gammon (5-6) and Olivia Gittins (5-6).

Dennis, who started as a freshman at shooting guard, is looking forward to increasing her averages of 2.3 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.1 steals from a year ago.

"I really like our style because I love getting up and down the court and speeding up the game. Sometimes teams with height don't necessarily have speed, so we think that could be an advantage," Dennis said. "I really need to be more of an offensive threat. Last year, I was primarily on the court for defense so now, I need to play both sides to help my team out more."

Rounding out the roster are seniors Cacchillo (5-7, guard), Maya Gammon (5-3, guard), Alexandra Henry (5-6, guard), Logan Meldrum (5-6, guard), Orsinelli (5-7, guard) and Arlly Villanueva-Almonte (5-8, guard) and freshman Lauren Wood (5-9, guard).

New Albany's home opener is Thursday, Nov. 29, against Grandview.

The Eagles begin OCC-Capital play Tuesday, Dec. 4, at Franklin Heights. New Albany tied Big Walnut and Canal Winchester for second place in the league last year behind Newark (10-0).

Because of the Eagles' tempo, Blunt anticipates playing more girls than in the past, when he sometimes rotated as few as seven or eight players.

"We won't do anything different scheme-wise (defensively); we'll just do things more frequently. We'll have to score more points off the defensive end," Blunt said. "We'll have to score points athletically. We're probably the best-shooting team I've had. We can really shoot, but we'll be shooting more 3-pointers than we have in the past."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedule

Nov. 27 -- at Licking Heights

Nov. 29 -- vs. Grandview

*Dec. 4 -- at Franklin Heights

*Dec. 7 -- vs. Newark

Dec. 11 -- vs. Olentangy Berlin

*Dec. 14 -- at Big Walnut

Dec. 18 -- at Westerville North

*Dec. 21 -- vs. Groveport

Dec. 27 -- Olentangy Orange in Roosters Stallion Holiday Classic at DeSales

Dec. 28 -- DeSales or Melbourne (Australia) Ringwood Secondary College in Roosters Stallion Holiday Classic at DeSales

*Jan. 4 -- at Canal Winchester

Jan. 8 -- vs. Reynoldsburg

*Jan. 11 -- vs. Franklin Heights

Jan. 15 -- at Worthington Kilbourne

*Jan. 18 -- at Newark

Jan. 22 -- vs. Gahanna

*Jan. 25 -- vs. Big Walnut

Jan. 29 -- vs. Dublin Jerome

Jan. 30 -- at Thomas Worthington

*Feb. 1 -- at Groveport

Feb. 5 -- at Pickerington Central

*Feb. 8 -- vs. Canal Winchester

*League contest