The Watterson High School girls basketball team spent the final 15 minutes of practice Nov. 19 shooting free throws at six baskets in the gym.

The Watterson High School girls basketball team spent the final 15 minutes of practice Nov. 19 shooting free throws at six baskets in the gym.

After watching 6-foot junior post player Mary Kate Campbell miss a pair, coach Tom Woodford instructed her to "slow down, settle the ball in your hands and keep everything square," before demonstrating the technique himself.

Campbell responded by making her next four, which prompted Woodford to smile and compliment Campbell.

At the conclusion of practice, Woodford, whose team will open with a pair of home games Saturday against Newark and Tuesday against Hilliard Davidson, explained why he's chosen to emphasize free-throw shooting throughout the preseason.

"One of our big goals is to get to the foul line a lot more than we did last year," said Woodford, whose team finished 21-2 a year ago after losing to Dublin Scioto 53-34 in a Division I district semifinal. "We had a lot of girls who were good shooters last year, but we had only one person who shot over 65 free throws, and that's not a lot over a 20-game season. All teams have a bad shooting day every so often, and if we're having a bad shooting day, we'll need to find other ways to score. We'll need to get to the line and be prepared to make our shots when we're there."

Watterson features two fourth-year starters in 5-7 senior guard Melissa Gilliland and 6-1 senior post player Daiva Gerbec, a third-year starter in 5-6 guard Cami Frommeyer and a second-year starter in 6-0 post player Sunny Finnegan.

Gerbec, an Ashland recruit, averaged 11.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.1 blocks last season. Gilliland, a Tiffin recruit, averaged 10.1 points. Frommeyer averaged three points and Finnegan averaged 4.3 points.

Gerbec and Gilliland were first-team all-CCL and honorable mention all-district, and Frommeyer was second-team all-league.

Rounding out the roster are 5-5 senior guard Stasia Valentino, 5-6 junior guard Liz Englehart, 6-0 junior post players Campbell and Domini Paradiso and 5-8 sophomore guard Courtney Haley.

Last season, Haley averaged 5.5 points and made a team-high 36 percent (21 of 59) of her 3-pointers. Paradiso averaged 2.1 points, Valentino averaged two points and Campbell averaged 1.5 points.

"We've got four really strong post players, and we've got five good guards, so we have good balance," Finnegan said. "We've got a lot of experience. Four of our seniors have been on varsity since we were sophomores, and eight of our nine players are returning letterwinners."

Watterson's first priority is to defend its CCL championship. Last season, the Eagles went 10-0 in the CCL to win their first title in four years ahead of DeSales (7-3), Ready (5-5), Worthington Christian (4-6), Hartley (2-8) and Columbus School for Girls (2-8).

Watterson swept Ready (69-40, 50-42) and DeSales (43-40, 70-56), snapping six-game losing streaks to both.

"Ready and DeSales have some very good players coming back, and they're going to be dangerous," Woodford said. "All of the CCL teams have improved, so we're going to have to play better to beat these teams and win the CCL again."

Watterson played a relatively soft regular-season schedule last season, as it went 19-1 and won 10 games by 21 or more points and seven by 10 or more.

The Eagles opened the district tournament with wins over Central Crossing 37-34 and Jerome 47-33.

Watterson has toughened its schedule by adding five teams that finished with winning records last year. Watterson will play host to Davidson and has added Olmsted Falls and Cincinnati Mother of Mercy to the Watterson Holiday Tournament to be held Dec. 29-30. Watterson also will play at Mifflin on Dec. 6 and at Chillicothe on Dec. 10.

"We didn't play many tough teams last year and we weren't ready for (Scioto)," Valentino said. "But we're excited about the schedule we have this year, because the degree of difficulty should help us get further in the tournament."