Pickerington High School North girls basketball team was in its inaugural season when the Panthers beat Cleveland (Tenn.) 69-37 for the title at the 2003 Holiday Classic.

Pickerington High School North girls basketball team was in its inaugural season when the Panthers beat Cleveland (Tenn.) 69-37 for the title at the 2003 Holiday Classic.

Since then, North has gone five tournaments with zero titles, three second-place finishes and two fourth-place finishes.

Last season, the Panthers finished fourth after losing to Kettering Fairmont 43-37 in the third-place game. After beating McMurray (Pa.) Peters Township 56-43 in the opening round, North lost to Chicago Bogan 36-32 in a semifinal the next day.

Against Bogan and Fairmont, North shot a combined 18-for-59 from inside 3-point range, 6-for-39 from outside it and 15-for-33 from the line.

The Panthers' shooting woes improved after the Classic. North lost only two more games, including a Division I regional semifinal to West Chester Lakota West 77-60 to finish 20-5.

North lost six graduates, including Division I signees Brittany Gamby (UNC-Wilmington) and Brittney Callahan (Northern Illinois). Both players could shoot from the outside. Yet when those two were unable knock down perimeter shots, coach Dave Butcher knew the result would not be in the Panthers' favor.

A year later, he is focused on getting the ball in the paint on offense and implementing full-court pressure on defense.

North won its first four games this season by an average of 38 points.

"I knew we were going to be athletic and we've got a lot of quickness on our team," Butcher said. "This is the quickest team I've had, as our posts are very mobile. It's allowed us to push tempo and extend the court defensively."

In North's final 10 regular-season games last season, junior Kavunaa Edwards (5-foot-11) emerged as a frontcourt starter. She averaged 10.3 points and scored at least eight points during the 10-game span. Through four games this season, Edwards has averaged 17.5 points.

At point guard, Nicole Olszewski signed with Austin Peay on Nov. 11. Although she admitted before the season began her slight of size was a disadvantage, she also keyed North's strong start.

"My speed and quickness makes up for (lack of size)," she said.

Olszewski averaged 13 points in North's first four games and it has helped the Panthers create a strong two-player game with Edwards. Olszewski's younger sister, junior Shelby Olszewski, was moved into the starting lineup after being the first player off the bench last season. Senior guard Michele Hare and junior forward Jordan Householder were also newcomers to the Panthers' starting five.

"Our up-tempo game has allowed us to play 94 feet," Butcher said. "When you do that, it affects you on offense. Last season we didn't shoot the ball well. We were hot and cold. When we didn't shoot it well, we struggled to score. Now we're not shooting as many 3-pointers."

While North's offense averaged almost 70 points per game through four games, the Panthers' defense has allowed 31.5 points, which has them poised for a 2003 repeat at this season's Classic.

"We've been able to harass guards," Butcher said. "We do not have a lot of size, but we're athletic and so we can force tempo and extend the floor. Last year we had a hard time doing that and had to play a lot of half-court man defense. We had a hard time guarding the block against teams with big kids inside."