Things finally might be falling into place for John Wheeler and the Northridge High School boys basketball team.

Things finally might be falling into place for John Wheeler and the Northridge High School boys basketball team.

The third-year coach has four returning starters. That added varsity experience could help the Vikings make a major improvement on last season's 5-16 overall record.

"We had one senior (E.J. Snyder) last year and we have seven this season,"

said Wheeler, whose team lost to Africentric 53-39 in the opening round of the Division III district tournament. "The difference between this year and last

year is that everyone was new to varsity (last season) and we were playing in a conference where most teams had a lot of three- and four-year starters. Our experience could be big this season."

Junior Connor Burke, a 5-foot-11 guard, is back after averaging 10.0 points per game and being named second-team all-MBC and all-District 11, and honorable mention all-Central District. Senior Justin Howard, a 6-2 guard/forward, scored 8.6 points per game with 3.1 rebounds and was honorable mention all-District 11. Junior Aaron Estep, a 5-8 guard, averaged 8.0 points per game with 2.3 steals and was honorable mention all-league.

Also back is Tony Rios, a 6-5, 220-pound starting center whom Wheeler expects to come into his own as a senior.

"We have had some really good post players in the league over the last couple of years and most of them have graduated," Wheeler said. "I think Tony can make an impact this year."

The five other seniors for the Vikings are 5-11 forward Bill Andrews, 6-3 forward Caleb Higgins, 5-10 guard Cody King, 5-10 guard Nick Nixon and 6-1 post player Cody Waller.

"I definitely think the maturity level has grown from last year to this year," Wheeler said. "We really have a good group of seniors. They have one more year of varsity experience under their belts that they didn't have last season. That one year brings a lot of experience."

Nixon returns after missing most of last season following injuries from a preseason auto accident.

"Nick may be the best shooter on the team and he's a team captain despite missing all but about five or six games last season," Wheeler said.

Also on varsity are juniors Brandon Hull (5-10, guard) and David Pribonic (6-3, forward) as well as sophomore Hayden Warner (5-10, guard) and freshman Eli Ketron (6-3, post player).

"We have 13 guys competing for varsity spots, so that's good," Wheeler said. "That competition will only make us better."

Last season, Northridge finished seventh in the MBC at 3-11 behind champion Centerburg at 12-2. Fredericktown and Johnstown-Monroe tied for second at 10-4 with Utica in fourth at 9-5 followed by Loudonville at 7-7, East Knox at 4-10, the Vikings and Danville at 1-13.

•Jeff Wilson has been hired to lead the baseball program.

Wilson, a podiatrist, led the middle-school program for the last three seasons.

He replaces Chris Hatten, who was 16-30 in two seasons as coach. Last spring, the Vikings were 5-10 overall and finished seventh in the MBC at 3-11 behind champion Fredericktown at 13-1.

"I've been coaching baseball for the last 10 years," said Wilson, whose middle-school program finished 18-2 last spring. "I have six kids of my own. I love being around kids and working to make them more successful."

His six children include Ross, 16, a sophomore at Northridge as well as eighth-grader Greg, 14, seventh-grader Emily, 13, and fourth-grader Jackson, 9. He has two stepchildren in third-grader Cooper Brock, 9, and first-grader Carter Brock, 7.

"We were looking for someone who is a coach of coaches as well as a coach of players," athletics director Wayne Howard said. "We also wanted someone who is well-organized and (Wilson) is both of these and more."

Wilson has coached middle school, Babe Ruth and Northridge Youth Athletic Association all-star and regular-season teams. Because of this experience, he has coached nearly all of the players in the high-school program.

"I think our first order of business is changing the culture in the program," Wilson said. "I want to bring more discipline and respect into the program.

"My philosophy is that we are only as good as our preparation and come the beginning of the season, the kids will be as prepared as they have ever been."