Despite lacking much experience, the Groveport Madison High School boys basketball team is optimistic about the season.
"I think we definitely can challenge for the (OCC-Capital Division) championship and maybe make some noise in the (Division I) district tournament," seventh-year coach Ryan Grashel said. "We have very quick guards and we've added some length this season that was missing a year ago. I'm very excited to see how this team grows and how quickly we can jell."
The Cruisers, who christened their new gym Nov. 29 with a 65-60 win over Westland, did not return any starters from last season, when they finished 8-15 overall and 4-6 in the OCC-Capital to place fifth behind champion Newark (10-0).
Groveport has only two returnees in Nakhi Taylor, a 6-foot senior guard who averaged 6.2 points, 1.9 assists and 3.1 rebounds coming off the bench, and 6-3 senior guard Javon Miller, who saw limited action.
"Nakhi brings great experience playing at a high level, both at the point and on the wing," said Grashel, whose team begins league play Friday, Dec. 7, at home against Franklin Heights. "He should be able to get to the free-throw line at a high rate and we're going to expect him to be a leader on the floor as the younger guys gain experience.
"But some of our younger guys have been on the varsity stage in other sports and some gained a lot of confidence in our football program this fall. It's just a matter of them gaining experience and confidence in the gym now and jelling with everyone around them."
Last season, Groveport went 4-7 in games decided by four points or fewer and finished 2-2 in overtime games. Despite their record, the Cruisers were only outscored by an average of 58.4 points to 57.
"We're going to have to find a way to win those 50-50 games and make one or two more key plays down the stretch of games," Grashel said. "We've got to find a way to finish."
Grashel believes that added size and length on the roster should make a difference this season. Providing those attributes will be 6-4 senior forward Tony Jackson and 6-5 sophomore forward Elijah Hawk.
"Hawk and Tony bring some length that will give us a presence on the block and allow us to play inside out," Grashel said. "We didn't have that last year. We couldn't get the ball inside and work it back out for open shots and we didn't get scoring from the paint in the half-court."
Elijah Monroe, a 6-1 junior point guard, will be the conductor on offense and defense. Also expected to start or be key contributors are junior Devin Singleton (6-2, forward) and sophomore Terrence Kee (6-0, guard).
Against Westland, Miller had 21 points, Taylor scored 17 and Hawk scored 12.
Also on the team are seniors Deahmi Guinn (5-11, forward) and Martez Knight (6-2, guard/forward), juniors Tyrell Floyd (6-3, guard) and Raychaun Whitfield (6-2, guard/forward) and sophomores Elyjah Aekins (5-11, guard) and Scotty Lomax (6-2, guard).
"Elijah Monroe brings a high IQ to the point guard position and has the ability to score," Grashel said. "I think we have great depth at all positions and we should be able to defend at a high level.
"To have team success this season, we have to play inside-out and get out in transition. Our defense needs to be high energy and disruptive."
Wrestlers seeking another league title
The wrestling team has its eyes set on a third consecutive league championship.
The Cruisers lost just two starters to graduation after going 4-1 in the OCC-Capital last season to share the title with Newark.
Groveport returns two league champions in junior Muhamad Conteh (120 pounds) and sophomore Jason Pinkston (113/120) and three league runners-up in senior Ashton Reese (138), junior Skyler Mouser (195) and sophomore Jake Nelson (195).
Clayton Saunders, a 2018 graduate, also was a league runner-up (113).
Pinkston has moved up from 106 last season, Reese is up from 126 and Nelson is up from 160 and 170.
"Our first goal is to repeat as OCC-Capital champs," third-year coach Brian Brison said. "I am excited to return so many wrestlers from a year ago. They improved so much throughout the year last season and I am ready for them to take the next step. "
Nelson placed sixth at 170 in the Division I district tournament last season to finish 39-9. Junior A.J. Joyce (220) also was a district qualifier and Mouser was a district alternate.
"Last season, Jake spent most of the year at 160, but during the offseason, he hit a growth spurt and will be wrestling at 195 this season," Brison said. "His style should translate well to his new weight class. Jake has wrestled a lot this past offseason and has his sights set on the state tournament.
"Last season was A.J.'s first year of wrestling and making it to the district tournament really showed some of the potential that he has. He hit the weights hard in the offseason and is very focused and motivated by his success. I look for him to make a major leap in his development this year."
Other key returnees are seniors Marshuan Armstrong (152), Jacob Cline (152) and Ethan Schleret (182) and junior Tykel Hancock (heavyweight).
"Jacob is our captain," Brison said. "I enjoy the intensity that Jacob wrestles with and the passion he brings to the mat. He understands the big picture of what we are trying to accomplish. He helps others in the room and sets the tone on how things need to be done."
Also back are senior Trent Eaton (220), juniors Nick Brookman (182) and Te'Rah Edwards (heavyweight) and sophomores Aden Gartin (106), Kaleb Thaxton (145) and Johnathan Thompson (170).
Last season, Conteh finished 22-17, Eaton went 12-6 and Joyce was 15-14.
Among the newcomers are senior Jaylon Jackson (195), junior Josh Aguon (126), sophomore Eli Jackson (106) and freshman Jacob Chilcote (126).
"Our numbers are up with over 45 guys in the program and I am excited about some of our newcomers," Brison said. "I feel like we have some guys that will be able to immediately step in and contribute at a high level. These wrestlers will be key in league duals. We have the making of a solid team. However, it is on us to stay focused, sacrifice and do the little things that no one wants to do so we can reach our potential."