The Pickerington High School North girls basketball team remains a work in progress even though it is returning four starters and eight of the top 10 players in the program overall.

The Pickerington High School North girls basketball team remains a work in progress even though it is returning four starters and eight of the top 10 players in the program overall.

"We're trying to become something in a short amount of time," coach Dave Butcher said. "The soccer kids just got in here (less than two weeks ago) and our volleyball kids were a little late, too, so we're not nearly where we need to be yet.

"Now I know how some of the other (boys) basketball coaches feel when football teams make a deep run in the playoffs. The good thing is we're not opening on Thanksgiving weekend like we usually do. We do have a little extra time (before playing Dec. 2 at Grove City in the season and OCC-Ohio Division opener)."

Senior guard Shelby Olszewski headlines the list of players who arrived late to start basketball practice after the soccer team advanced to the Division I state final on Nov. 13, falling 3-0 to Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit. Jordan Householder, a 6-foot senior post player, had a starring role as the volleyball team advanced to a regional semifinal on Nov. 4 before losing 25-16, 25-14, 25-18 to Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame.

Still, optimism might be running as high as ever with much of the basketball team's lineup returning intact.

"We have to get to (the Division I) state (tournament) this year. There really is no other option," said 6-0 senior forward Kavunaa Edwards, who has signed with Villanova University. "Last year we were so close."

The Panthers, who made their only state-tournament appearance in 2007, finished 24-2 overall last season after a 45-34 loss to Reynoldsburg in a regional final.

Their only regular-season loss resulted from a forfeit in the opener, which they won 60-45 over Northland before the OHSAA later ruled they had used an ineligible player. North rebounded to earn its first No. 1 seed for the district tournament and eventually captured a seventh consecutive district title by defeating New Albany 68-56 in the final, handing Butcher the 22nd district championship of his career.

North also won its sixth consecutive OCC-Ohio title by finishing 14-0. Reynoldsburg was second at 10-4, followed by Pickerington Central (10-4), Gahanna (9-5), Newark (6-8), Lancaster (4-10), Groveport (2-12) and Grove City (1-13). Moreover, the Panthers won its KeyBank Holiday Classic for the first time since 2003 by defeating Louisville (Ky.) DuPont Manual 56-46.

But the loss to Reynoldsburg, which defeated a Butcher-led team for the first time, remains a sore point even as it might be used for motivation this season.

"Coming in this year, that has to be in the back of our mind," Butcher said. "We had the opportunity to go to state, and we'd already beaten Reynoldsburg twice.

"The Central District Is going to be pretty good again and so will our conference. We've got an extremely difficult schedule, maybe as tough or even more so than last year, and there's going to be a new point guard on the floor (following the graduation of Austin Peay recruit Nicole Olszewski).

"Right now, that's one of the things we're dealing with. We have to decide if we'll play that position by committee or what. In fact, we're replacing our two best perimeter shooters (including graduate Michelle Hare). On paper, we look awfully good, sure, but we've still got a lot of work to do."

Shelby Olszewski, who has signed to join her sister at Austin Peay, could end up sharing time at the point with junior Jaila Kee-Bryant. Olszewski averaged 8.3 points and was second-team all-conference and honorable mention all-district. Edwards averaged 16 points and 8.0 rebounds to make first-team all-conference, first-team all-district and special mention all-state.

Also returning are seniors Jenna Andreas (5-10, forward), Bria Booker (guard), Mary Johann (guard) and Paige Stought (5-11, forward), who plans to play at Division II Ohio Dominican.

The team's other juniors are guards Becca Glen, Taylor Jones and Ashley Lukacsko. Sophomore wing Christy Macioce is being considered for the fifth starting spot, and Butcher said at worst she will be the first guard off the bench. She also played soccer.

"Those kids, well, it's hard to replace the experience and mental toughness you get playing at a level like that," Butcher said of a soccer team that finished 20-3 and the volleyball team that finished 25-2. "We think it's a real advantage having so many multi-sport kids."