First-year coach Ron Florey wants his players on the Olentangy Liberty High School girls basketball team to treat the ball like it was a precious metal.

First-year coach Ron Florey wants his players on the Olentangy Liberty High School girls basketball team to treat the ball like it was a precious metal.

The Patriots averaged 30 turnovers a game during last season when they finished 4-17 overall and that, Florey said, is way too many.

"Our ability to take care of the basketball is going to make the difference," said Florey, whose team opens against Delaware at the Delaware County Classic on Friday at Olentangy Orange. "We have to treat each possession and the ball like it was gold.

"Turnovers can change the whole complexion of the game. When you have a lot of turnovers and fall behind, you expend a ton of energy trying to come back. We need to act like the ball is gold and know where it is all the time."

Florey, who compiled a 6-56 record in three seasons at Northridge and went 33-32 in three seasons at Madison Plains, inherits a program that has struggled to win the past five seasons. Florey is the Patriots' fifth coach since their inaugural season in 2003-04 and replaces Jennifer Clark, who resigned after guiding Liberty to a 32-51 mark over four seasons.

Liberty hasn't had a winning season since going 13-9 in 2004-05.

"I feel like we're more ready for this year," 5-foot-10 senior guard Allyson VanGundy said. "It's different having a guy as a coach. He knows what he's talking about and he's very determined. He's very driven and he wants us to get that same mentality."

VanGundy, who averaged 12 points and five rebounds last season, is one of four returnees. The others are junior Erin Pfeifer (6-0, post player) and sophomores Karla Levering (5-11, forward) and Maddie Redwine (5-8, guard). Last season, Levering averaged 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds and Redwine averaged four points.

Senior Abbey Smith (5-10, guard) returns to basketball after taking a year off to focus on soccer. A goalkeeper on the soccer team that reached a Division I district final who has verbally committed to Central Michigan University, Smith averaged 5.2 points and 3.0 assists as a sophomore.

"We're excited to have her back," Florey said. "She gives us great leadership and is a tough competitor. We need that."

Also on the team are senior Natalie Lyndes (5-6, guard), junior Jalynn Guice (5-4, guard), sophomores Riley Long (5-6, guard) and Kennedy Wilke (5-9, forward) and freshman Emily Perry (6-0, wing/post player).

Florey is hoping Liberty's depth will help it be more competitive in the OCC-Cardinal Division. The Patriots finished eighth in the league last season at 2-12, behind co-champions Olentangy (11-3) and Dublin Scioto (11-3) as well as Westerville South (10-4), Westerville North (9-5), Marysville (6-8), Dublin Jerome (4-10) and Westerville Central (3-11).

"The biggest challenge is going to make sure the young kids are fundamentally ready to play night in and night out," said Florey, a former assistant coach at Westerville South. "There are no easy teams in the OCC, so we need to learn how to compete."