Coming off a stellar season that ended only one step from the Division I state tournament, the Westerville South High School girls basketball team has even loftier goals this winter.
The Wildcats, who return four Division I college commits, are hoping to contend for their first state title.
South, which finished 21-6 overall last season after losing to eventual state champion Pickerington Central 60-52 in a regional final, opened Nov. 24 with a 66-51 loss to Huber Heights Wayne in the Journey to the Tourney at West Chester Lakota West.
The Wildcats tip off OCC-Buckeye Division play Dec. 7 against Olentangy as they look to defend their league title. They went 10-0 in the league last season.
"We still talk about last year," said 5-foot-9 senior guard Peyton Guice, who scored 22 points against Wayne. "It's one of the things that truly motivates us this year to get to where we were last year and even further."
South endured a coaching carousel in the offseason after Silas Williams stepped down and became the coach at Pickerington North. Tomeka Brown-Whitehead replaced Williams in June, but she resigned Sept. 10 because of personal reasons.
Erick Herzberg was named coach in late September after previously guiding Linden-McKinley and Lakewood.
"The expectation is win everything," Herzberg said. "I've never had a team this balanced with athletes, bigs and so many different (types) of shooters. We have slashers. We have just about everything we need. We can go big, we can go small. I'm learning more and more about the team and what we can do well. We'll get better throughout the season."
Herzberg inherits a strong nucleus that includes Guice, who will play at Ohio University, and 5-4 senior point guard Sommer Pitzer, who will play at Indiana State.
"The feeling that we had after losing (in the regional final) is still with us and that's what keeps us going," Pitzer said. "It's what motivates us. That's the feeling we're using for this year."
Last season, Pitzer was named league Player of the Year for the third consecutive year. She also was first-team all-district and third-team all-state.
Guice was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
"Peyton and Sommer have both helped me out quite a bit," Herzberg said. "Getting here a few weeks before the season, it's been a scramble. We had no scrimmages. It's a lot to try to build chemistry."
Also back are junior Ohio State commits Anyssa Jones (5-10, guard) and Gabby Hutcherson (6-2, forward). Jones was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district last season, and Hutcherson was honorable mention all-district and all-league.
Senior Moriah Culver (5-8, guard), juniors Asaya Bulgin (6-1, forward), Neveah McClure (5-3, guard) and Mira Rudolph (5-4, guard) and sophomore Aja Austin (6-0, forward) also return.
Other players are senior Kayla Lee (5-6, guard) and sophomores Iman Benlemlih (5-6, guard), Jada Moultair (5-9, forward) and Megan Rispress (5-9, forward).
"We're getting to know each other better. We're building that rapport," Herzberg said. "We just have a shorter timetable. We're trying to get through everything and make sure we have everything taken care of. They've been through a lot the last half year with three different coaches. Considering what they've been through, they've been very gracious and very open."
Athletes announce college decisions
Four South student-athletes announced their college decisions Nov. 14.
In addition to Guice and Pitzer, Russell Montemarano will play men's soccer at Ohio Dominican and Jenna Villacres will play women's soccer at Murray State.
Nov. 24 -- Huber Heights Wayne in Journey to the Tourney at West Chester Lakota West
Nov. 27 -- vs. Hartley
*Dec. 7 -- vs. Olentangy
Dec. 8 -- vs. Lexington
*Dec. 13 -- at Olentangy Liberty
Dec. 17 -- vs. Gahanna
*Dec. 21 -- at Olentangy Orange
Dec. 27 -- Sylvania Southview in Phil Brown Classic at Otterbein
*Jan. 4 -- at Westerville North
Jan. 8 -- at Pickerington Central
*Jan. 11 -- vs. Westerville Central
*Jan. 18 -- at Olentangy
Jan. 20 -- West Chester Lakota West in Classic in the Country at Berlin Hiland
Jan. 21 -- Mason in Classic in the Country at Berlin Hiland
Jan. 22 -- at Reynoldsburg
*Jan. 25 -- vs. Olentangy Liberty
Jan. 26 -- at Africentric in Nubian Classic
Jan. 29 -- vs. Dublin Coffman
*Feb. 1 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
Feb. 5 -- vs. Upper Arlington
*Feb. 8 -- vs. Westerville North
*Feb. 15 -- at Westerville Central
Below are the coming schedules for the South boys basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
Nov. 30 -- At Newark
Dec. 4 -- Home vs. Worthington Kilbourne
*Dec. 3 -- Westerville North at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
SWIMMING & DIVING
Nov. 30 -- At Thomas Worthington with North, Westerville Central and Kilbourne
Dec. 1 -- Olentangy Orange at Westerville Community Center
Dec. 1 -- Lee Spitzer Invitational at Upper Arlington