The Columbus Academy girls basketball team hasn't enjoyed much success recently, but first-year coach Heather Gepper believes the Vikings are primed for a breakthrough season.

The Columbus Academy girls basketball team hasn't enjoyed much success recently, but first-year coach Heather Gepper believes the Vikings are primed for a breakthrough season.

After posting a combined record of 9-53 from 2005-08, Academy went 9-13 in 2008-09 and 9-11 last year.

Gepper was an assistant under coach Mike Belcher the past two seasons and coached at the middle school for two years before that, so she knows the players' abilities firsthand.

Having a winning record during the regular season and winning a few games in the postseason are realistic goals for this year, she said.

Academy, which finished fifth in the MSL-Ohio Division last season at 6-8 and lost to Marion Pleasant 46-35 in the first round of the district tournament, begins this season on Dec. 2 at Newark Catholic. Academy finished behind Granville (12-2), Heath (12-2), Newark Catholic (11-3) and Licking Valley (8-6), and ahead of Bexley (5-9), Lakewood (2-12) and Whitehall (1-13) in the MSL-Ohio.

"I'm expecting a lot out of these girls," Gepper said. "We have an attitude that we want to have a winning season and we've got the weapons to have a winning season."

The roster includes four seniors and five juniors, so while the players must become acclimated with Gepper's new schemes on offense and defense, they don't have to get used to each other.

Gepper will rely on 5-foot-8 junior point guard Erin Simmons, a starter since she was a freshman, to lead the offense and distribute the ball to 5-9 senior forward Allie Roehrenbeck and 5-8 junior guard LaShaun Ransom.

Roehrenbeck averaged a team-high 10 points a game last season and was second-team all-conference. Ransom is "going to provide a lot of quickness and speed to the basket, as well as an outside shooting game for us," Gepper said.

Simmons, Roehrenbeck and Ransom will be joined in the starting lineup by 5-11 forward Aubree Dipman. Gepper hasn't decided if her fifth starter will be 5-10 junior forward Meredith McCloud or 5-6 junior guard Allison Martin.

The Vikings must replace forward Molly Belcher, who averaged eight points and five rebounds last season and was named first-team all-conference.

"Offensively our positions are going to be interchangeable," Gepper said. "I'm lucky to have some kids that can be pretty diverse with their positions."

Off the bench, Gepper plans to use 6-0 senior forward Erica Frank and 5-6 freshman point guard Brianna King, who will serve as Simmons' backup.

"We're hoping that she'll get some minutes and give Erin some breaks and take some pressure off of her," Gepper said of King.

The Vikings can't afford to have Simmons wear down. An honorable mention all-league selection last season, she is clearly the leader on the floor.

"She's like the quiet general out there," Dipman said.

The wild card on the roster is 5-7 junior guard Dina Sinno, who missed last season after breaking a finger during an Academy field hockey game in fall 2009.

Gepper hopes that Sinno, who returned to the field hockey team this fall, will quickly shake off any basketball rust.

"She can do the small things that a lot of people aren't willing to do," Gepper said. "I expect by midseason she might actually be one of our starters."

McCloud said last year's team wasn't the same without Sinno.

"Without her we were like a broken chair, like a stool with three legs," McCloud said. "She just brings us all together. Having her back, it just makes everyone so excited."

The Vikings' season, however, will come down to more than team chemistry, Gepper said.

"We have to be physically fit and ready to play four quarters, and we have to go out with intensity," she said. "(The players) come to practice as intense as all get out and we have to carry that into games, into the whole season."

Dipman said she and her teammates are taking their coach's message to heart.

"We'll definitely be ready when the season comes," she said. "We're going game-speed in every drill (in practice)."