At this point last season, the Olentangy High School girls basketball team's toughest opponent in practice was a metal folding chair.

At this point last season, the Olentangy High School girls basketball team's toughest opponent in practice was a metal folding chair.

However, after losing only one player to graduation off a team that finished 18-6 overall last season after losing to Eastmoor Academy 56-45 in a Division II district final, eighth-year coach John Feasel said his team begins the season ahead of where it was a year ago.

"We're a little bit further along offensively and defensively than we were last year," said Feasel, whose team opens against Mount Vernon on Friday at the Delaware County Classic at Olentangy Orange. "Last year, we were dribbling around chairs during practice. This year we're doing fast break drills."

The lone player lost to graduation was post player Christine Delaney, who averaged 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds. The Lake Erie College recruit was the OCC-Cardinal Division Player of the Year and first-team all-district. She is fourth on the program's all-time scoring list with 738 points. Tessa Hay, a 1983 graduate, is the all-time leader with 983 points.

Delaney will be hard to replace, but judging by the preseason goals, the Braves appear to be confident they have the personnel to fill the void. Olentangy not only is aiming to repeat as the OCC-Cardinal champion, but it wants to go further in the tournament than any team in program history. That would mean making it to a state semifinal.

"We picked up a lot of confidence from last year," said senior Olivia Zwayer, a 5-foot-10 wing who plans to play at Ohio Dominican University. "Since we (shared the league title with Dublin Scioto), we're ready to get after it again."

Olentangy and Scioto tied for first in the OCC-Cardinal last season at 11-3. Westerville South (10-4) was third, followed by Westerville North (9-5), Marysville (6-8), Dublin Jerome (4-10), Westerville Central (3-11) and Olentangy Liberty (2-12).

Zwayer, who averaged nine points and was special mention all-league and honorable mention all-district a year ago, heads up a contingent of returnees for the Braves.

Seniors Emily Raiff (5-6) and Jamie Richardson (5-6) and sophomore Brooke Zwayer (5-10) return as guards. Raiff, who is in her fourth season on varsity, averaged 3.1 assists and two steals last season and made second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Zwayer averaged 7.1 points last season.

Also on the team are senior Embrye Cheek (5-8, post player), junior Kelsey Arnold (5-6, guard) and sophomores Lydia Hyburg (6-2, post player) and Megan Beidelman (6-0, post player), a transfer from Worthington Christian. Junior Nicole Payne (5-7, guard) suffered a knee injury but is expected to rejoin the team in December.

With 18 victories last season, the Braves finished with the second most wins in program history behind the 1998-99 team, which went 20-4. Olentangy set a program record by making 67.2 percent of its free throws, with Brooke Zwayer making a program-record 83 percent of her free throws (47 of 56).

"A lot of these kids had never been in a tournament before or played in an OCC game before," Feasel said. "I think we learned what it takes to win."