A good start quickly turned sour last year for the Olentangy Liberty High School girls basketball team.

A good start quickly turned sour last year for the Olentangy Liberty High School girls basketball team.

"We had this seven-game slump in the middle of the season and all of the sudden, we were looking at 8-9 overall," said coach Jennifer Clark, whose team opened 8-2 but finished 10-11 overall, losing to Upper Arlington 54-44 in the second round of the Division I district tournament. "That hurt us overall. I hope the girls learned they need to play 32 minutes (every game)."

Included in that start a year ago were victories over Olentangy 40-38, Big Walnut 46-44 and New Albany 57-55.

"We had a mid-year breakdown," said 5-foot-10 senior Cassie Swafford, whose team will open Saturday against Delaware in the Orange Tip-Off Classic. "We had a bad game, then another and then another. We couldn't figure out a way to get out of it and we got down on ourselves. We can't do that this year. One of the things we're working on is trying to stay positive when things aren't going our way."

Liberty lost three graduates, including Jenna Dougherty, who scored 22 points against UA and was honorable mention all-district.

The Patriots return six letterwinners, led by Swafford, senior Nikki Kontely (5-5 point guard) and sophomore Ally Van Gundy (5-9 forward). Swafford averaged 9.0 points last year, Kontely averaged 8.0 and Van Gundy averaged 7.0.

Seniors Alex Van Gundy (5-10 forward) and Ellen Noe (5-8 forward), sophomore Abbey Smith (5-9) and junior Brittney Wex (6-0) are expected to play key roles.

"We're going to look to push the ball, but if our transition doesn't get what we want, we have good size in not only our posts but some of our guards as well to go inside," Clark said. "Defensively, I hope we can get more ball pressure this year and step up as more of a defensive threatening team.

"Our group this year has what it takes to win. They've been in our system now for three years and have developed that competitive attitude. If we stay together as a group, we will have better results this year."

Last year, the Patriots were fourth in the OCC-Capital Division at 6-4, behind Dublin Scioto at 8-2 and Big Walnut and New Albany at 7-3.

Scioto and Liberty now are in the OCC-Cardinal with Westerville Central, Westerville South, Westerville North, Olentangy, Marysville and Dublin Jerome.

"Scioto is the front-runner. They have their top scoring threats returning," Clark said. "Winning the OCC is our No. 1 goal. It'll be a tough-but-possible road. We need to keep moving forward as a program."

Those scoring threats for Scioto are seniors Kesi Hess (16.9 points per game last year) and Brandi Gorniak (16.4).

At a glance

•Coach: Jennifer Clark, third season

•Opener: Saturday vs. Delaware at Orange Tip-Off Classic

•Key players: Nikki Kontely, Cassie Swafford and Ally Van Gundy