After a pair of losing seasons, this could be the year the Delaware Hayes High School girls basketball team returns to its winning form.

After a pair of losing seasons, this could be the year the Delaware Hayes High School girls basketball team returns to its winning form.

Things seem to be aligning properly as the Pacers return four starters and five letterwinners. Plus, the outside shooting -- which has been lacking the past two seasons and is vital to giving 6-foot-1 senior twins Makeda and Anasa Matthews room inside -- has improved.

"Our guards have gotten better," said Makeda, who averaged 14.8 points and 10.0 rebounds a year ago. "They are more comfortable and more confident and that should help us. I know teams will still try to clog the middle, but I think we can surprise them by making some outside shots this year."

In addition, Delaware will compete in the OCC-Capital Division and will not have to contend with bigger Division I schools or a powerhouse team like Pickerington North.

"Every high school team has a goal of winning the league, but that's pretty difficult when Pickerington North is in your league," said third-year coach Erin Fragale, whose team opens at 12:30 p.m. Saturday against Olentangy Liberty in the Tip-Off Classic at Olentangy Orange. "I won't say they're unbeatable, but I think the girls will have more hope of reaching that goal now that we're in a league with schools our size.

"I think the girls have seen the success of teams in the fall, with the boys soccer team winning a title and the volleyball and football teams having great seasons. They seem more confident."

The Pacers defeated Liberty 38-31 last season. They finished 9-12 overall after losing to Hilliard Darby 53-39 in the first round of the Division I district tournament. They were third at 5-5 in the OCC-Central behind North (10-0) and Westerville Central (8-2) and ahead of Marysville (3-7), Thomas Worthington (3-7) and Central Crossing (1-9).

Delaware will be joined in the OCC-Capital by Big Walnut, Franklin Heights, Mount Vernon, New Albany, Watkins Memorial and Orange.

The Pacers lost to the Big Walnut 54-43 and downed Mount Vernon 47-44 last year. They did not play Franklin Heights, New Albany or Watkins Memorial.

"I think we will win our division of the OCC and I'm hoping to get to the district final," said Makeda Matthews, who was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. "That's the goal I have and I think we can do it."

Anasa Matthews averaged 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds. She was honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league.

Senior Brittany Skeens returns at guard and junior Chelsie Burden is back at point guard.

"Chelsie has come a long way and is really developing into the point guard we need," Fragale said. "She wasn't truly ready to handle that spot last year but was forced into the role out of necessity when (former point guard) Shae McCoy moved out before her senior year.

"Brittany continues to be our great hustler and her leadership and knowledge of the game are great assets to us. She understands what needs to be done and is a natural-born leader. She's not a scorer, not a rebounder and not a point guard, but her intensity and attitude can carry the team. The girls follow her lead."

The other returning letterwinner is sophomore Caroline Welker, who can play every position but point guard and was the team's first player off the bench last season.

The Pacers will dress nine players regularly. Rounding out that group are senior guard Shelbi Franklin, sophomore guard Cindy Bowman, sophomore post player Corsica Barber (6-2) and freshman guard Paige Stimmel.

"Our depth is better and our subs need to play key minutes and not allow a dropoff in the level of our team play," Fragale said. "Makeda and Anasa are both very aggressive and intense players. While we're hoping as seniors they understand they can't get in as much foul trouble, we don't want them to lose that aggressiveness. That's why our substitution patterns will be important and why our subs have to be ready to give us quality minutes."

The Pacers, who will begin league play Dec. 5 at Orange, kept Thomas and Marysville on the schedule. The Pacers will play Dec. 29 at Marysville and Jan. 10 at Thomas. Last season they split with the Cardinals (51-44 win, 47-42 loss) and swept the Monarchs (60-52, 58-45).

Several non-league opponents remained the same, as Delaware will play Dec. 2 at Marion Harding, Dec. 6 at home against Hilliard Davidson, Jan. 20 at Olentangy and Feb. 13 at home against Darby. Last year, the Pacers lost to Marion Harding 59-40, Davidson 58-45 and Olentangy 47-39. They also lost to Darby 58-52 in the regular season.

The only new non-league opponent on the schedule is Dublin Scioto.

At a glance

•Coach: Erin Fragale, third season

•Opener: Saturday at Olentangy Orange vs. Olentangy Liberty

•Key players: Chelsie Burden, Anasa Matthews, Makeda Matthews and Brittany Skeens