The Northridge High School boys basketball team is searching for its identity.

The Northridge High School boys basketball team is searching for its identity.

With a failed levy erasing the majority of the program's summer scrimmages and workouts, John Wheeler still is looking for answers as he enters his fourth season as coach.

"In the two previous summers, we went to about seven varsity shootouts each year," Wheeler said. "This year with the levy failure, we didn't do a lot of things in the summer. We had open gyms, but that's not the same as getting out and competing in a structured setting.

"I think that our financial situation worked to really bring the guys closer together. We have a lot of reasons that we could use to fail, but they sucked it up and got it done. They don't want to have any excuses."

Last season, the Vikings finished 13-9 overall, losing to Horizon Science 67-66 in overtime in a second-round Division III district tournament game after beating Galion Northmor 54-52 in the first round.

Northridge went 10-4 in the MBC to finish third behind Fredericktown (13-1) and Utica (11-3) and ahead of Centerburg (9-5), East Knox (6-8), Loudonville (3-11) and Danville and Johnstown (both 2-12).

The Vikings return one starter from last season in Connor Burke. The 6-foot senior guard was the team's leading scorer at 10.1 points per game, and he also averaged 2.1 assists and 1.9 steals.

Aaron Estep, a 5-8 senior guard who also started, moved to Johnstown-Monroe after the levy failure. He averaged 9.1 points, 2.9 steals and 2.3 assists.

Returning letterwinners include senior guard Brandon Hull (5-11) and senior forward David Pribonic (6-3) as well as junior guard Hayden Warner (5-10) and sophomore post player Eli Ketron (6-4).

"We have a neat dynamic," Wheeler said. "The hardest thing is replacing the leadership of (2011 graduating) players like Nick Nixon and Justin Howard. Brandon Hull is just a fantastic leader and has earned a lot respect, and Connor Burke is becoming a better leader every day. He even took two charges in our scrimmage against Newark Catholic. He is leading by example on the floor."

The other senior is guard Hank Biehl (5-10), who has not played since his sophomore season. Junior post player Brady Charles (6-3), junior guard Sean Higgins (6-1) and sophomore guard Matt Grindle (6-1) round out the team.

"We don't have one or two guys who will be dominant with the ball, but we have seven or eight guys who are threats on the floor," Wheeler said. "We have a nice complementary set of players who are doing a great job."

The Vikings open Friday, Dec. 2, at Heath. They open their MBC schedule Dec. 9 at Danville.

•The girls basketball program has 16 players, with seven playing varsity.

"That is kind of a double-edged sword," second-year coach Ashley Holmberg said. "When there are only seven players on varsity, the girls know they are going to get a lot of playing time, but they also know that they are going to do a ton of conditioning to get ready to play that much."

Last season, the Vikings finished 11-11 overall after losing to Mount Gilead 65-55 in overtime in a second-round Division III district tournament game.

Northridge won only three games in 2009-10 and eight in the four previous seasons combined. Before the Vikings beat Caledonia River Valley 41-35 in the first round of the tournament, their last tournament victory was in 2002 when they were seeded sixth and had a first-round bye. They defeated Johnstown 49-45 in a second-round game before losing to North Union 54-53 in a district semifinal.

In the MBC last year, Northridge tied Fredericktown for fourth (7-7) behind Centerburg (12-2) and Utica and Loudonville (both 9-5). The Vikings finished ahead of East Knox (6-8) and Danville and Johnstown (both

Returning are seniors Sierra Fronk (5-7, forward), Macie Hatten (5-2, guard), Maddie Hess (5-7, guard) and Jessica Holbrook (5-11, forward) as well as juniors Lydia George (5-9, guard) and Kylee Wright (5-2 guard) and sophomore Sara Pribonic (5-6, point guard).

"We have to play smart defense," said Holmberg, whose team opens Monday, Nov. 28, at Newark Catholic. "Realistically, I would like to use our seven players, but that's not always going to happen. But if we play smart defense, we will be OK."

Northridge will play its first home game Thursday, Dec. 1, against Millersport. The Vikings open MBC play Saturday, Dec. 3, at Danville.

"We're short but quick, and we want to take advantage of that quickness," Holmberg said. "We have the capability to run the floor and we want to be able to do that as much as possible."