High expectations are the norm at Heath High School in several boys sports.

High expectations are the norm at Heath High School in several boys sports.

Baseball, track and field and football quickly come to mind. Wrestling is getting to that point, too. But basketball?

"Well, I know this is the first time since I've been coach we're entering a season with some lofty goals," said fifth-year coach Jason Baker, who has compiled a 20-66 record entering the opener Saturday at home against New Concord John Glenn.

"And that's coming from people outside the school and in the locker room."

The Bulldogs finished 10-12 overall a year ago, up from 3-18 two years ago. They defeated West Jefferson 71-70 in the first round of the Division III district tournament, winning a close postseason contest for a third consecutive year before falling to top-seeded Madison Plains 57-43 in the second round. Six of the losses and five of the first six came by six or fewer points, including 48-46 over Christmas break at MBC-champion Utica. That might have taken a mental toll down the stretch, although the Bulldogs also won three of four games late in the regular season.

"We're hoping having a little more experience now might be the difference," Baker said.

The return of seven seniors and the addition of an eighth, Newark transfer LaVelle Spivey, is one of the reasons for the optimism. The other seniors are guards Alex Van Dine, Lucas Barrett, Neil Gutmann and Ryan Binning, forwards Jake Alley (6-foot-2) and David Blizzard (6-3) and post player Trey Matthews (6-5).

Binning and Gutmann will run the point, and the 6-2 Spivey is expected to play just about every spot except center. Van Dine was honorable mention all-district a year ago and is the leading returning scorer (11.5 points). With so many shooting threats the Bulldogs should overcome the graduation of three-year starting guard Jordan Maier, who also made honorable mention all-district. Replacing graduate Casey Justice's leadership is among few concerns.

"Our biggest is rebounding. Really, that's the key to our whole season," Baker said. "We have to get (defensive) stops. We have to get rebounds."

Others to watch are junior Jerrod Ridgeway and sophomores Roger Gleckler and Zack Wolfe, a 6-4 center.

The Bulldogs finished 6-8 in the MSL-Ohio Division won by Columbus Academy (13-1), which earned its first league title since 1989. That's a script the Bulldogs, who play Dec. 9 at Academy in their first league game, hope to follow.

"Top to bottom, I think everyone has a chance," Baker said. "We have a ways to go, but we feel we can play with anyone."