The Canal Winchester High School boys basketball team had plenty of built-in excuses for why it might get off to a slow start this season.
Not only did the Indians lose their top two returning scorers to graduation in Trace Helton and Kenny Moore, but they also lost 6-foot-5 sophomore center Zach Morehead for the season because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
To make matters tougher, senior point guard Sam Jones missed the first few weeks of practice while recovering from a concussion and 6-4 junior forward Austin Fox has been slowed by a sprained ankle.
But instead of letting any of those setbacks slow them down, the Indians bounced back from a 50-31 season-opening loss at Pickerington North on Dec. 3 to win their next four games.
"We've lost some good players, but we still have six seniors who played last year and we're confident we can have another good season," said Jones, whose squad was 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the MSL-Buckeye Division before playing a league game against Bloom-Carroll last Tuesday. "Our loss to Pickerington North was tough, but it opened our eyes as to how hard and disciplined we need to play, and we're continuing to get better."
Coach Kent Riggs has been pleased with the way his team has played man-to-man defense.
After the loss to North, the Indians gave up an average of only 44.3 points in their next four games.
"We can always play better, but our defense has been the strongest part of our game," Riggs said. "We've done a good job of pressuring the ball. Our defense has been pretty consistent."
The Indians haven't been as consistent on offense, as they averaged only 49.7 points in their first three games.
But Canal Winchester showed improvement last weekend in a 56-41 win over Amanda-Clearcreek last Friday and a 58-51 victory over Watterson last Saturday.
Kyle Schriml scored 19 points and Michael Walker had 15 against Amanda-Clearcreek, and Walker scored 19 points and Schriml had 12 against Watterson.
Walker was averaging 12.4 points, Schriml was at 10.6 points and Joe Collier was averaging nine rebounds through Canal Winchester's first five games.
"We try to get up and down the court offensively, and over the weekend, we executed better," Riggs said. "Michael Walker and Kyle Schriml have been scoring in double figures for us, and our other guys are helping to carry the load, too, which they need to do. We moved the ball well against Watterson. We had 15 assists, which is double the amount we've been having, and we had only seven turnovers."
The win against Watterson avenged a 44-40 loss to the Eagles in a Division II district final last season.
"It's nice to finally beat Watterson, because none of us have done that before," Jones said. "In the second half of that game we turned the corner offensively, and it's nice that we did it against a good team."
The Indians will return to action on Dec. 30 at Pickerington Central, which lost to Gahanna 78-53 last Friday to drop to 1-3 overall heading into a game last Tuesday against Groveport.
"They're 1-3, but they play a real tough schedule," Riggs said. "They're young, but they're as athletic as any team we play. The biggest thing for us is we've got to continue to play good defense, and we've got to execute our offense."
At a glance
Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Canal Winchester girls basketball, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Dec. 14 - Lost to Circleville 47-42. Kaleigh Whitlatch scored 11 points and Cadyn Krauss had 10.
*Last Saturday - Lost to Fairfield Union 62-36. Ashley Dexter scored 13 points.
Last Monday - Defeated Washington Court House 51-34. Whitlatch led the way with 13 points.
Wednesday - Home vs. Groveport
Of note: The Indians are 4-4 overall and 1-4 in the MSL-Buckeye.
SWIMMING & DIVING
Last Saturday - Boys: Finished fifth (125) at Grandview Yule at the Pool behind champion St. Charles (312); Girls: Finished ninth (63) behind champion Pickerington Central (165)
Jan. 13 - At Columbus Academy
Last Saturday - Finished sixth (122) in 13-team Panther Invitational behind champion Bedford Chanel (282.5). Brady Hutchins (130) and Joe Boswell (135) each went 4-1 to place second. Nick Brady (112) and Dalton Tullius (140) each went 4-1 to place third. Eric Banks (215) went 3-2 to place fifth. Royce Calloway (160) went 2-3 to place sixth.
Tuesday-Wednesday - At Medina Invitational