Maybe the thing fourth-year Pickerington High School Central girls basketball coach Johnathan Hedgepeth loves most about his players is they can't wait to see what's next.

Maybe the thing fourth-year Pickerington High School Central girls basketball coach Johnathan Hedgepeth loves most about his players is they can't wait to see what's next.

On a bigger level, the Tigers are eager to continue a recent trend of improvement that saw them reach back-to-back Division I district semifinals in 2014 and 2015 and break through with OCC-Ohio Division and district championships last season, only to lose to former league rival Newark 53-51 in a regional semifinal.

On a more immediate basis, Hedgepeth sees his players' collective intelligence growing to the point where they create advantageous situations and better anticipate developments.

"Their competitive nature is growing daily. They just want to be here, and they want more," said Hedgepeth, whose team opened Nov. 27 with a 68-46 loss to Huber Heights Wayne in the Journey to the Tourney at West Chester Lakota West. "They are always seeing 'what else can we do off this play? What is the next step?' They are starting to see the game better, and it's exciting. And some of our younger girls are stepping up, becoming leaders and challenging each other."

First-team all-league and second-team all-district honorees Madison Greene and Bexley Wallace have returned to help lead Central, which finished 23-4 overall last season and went 14-0 in the OCC-Ohio to win its first league title since 2008, when the Tigers were in the OCC-Cardinal.

Greene, a 5-foot-11 sophomore guard, averaged a team-high 13 points as well as five assists and three rebounds last season. Wallace, a 6-3 junior, averaged nine points, seven rebounds and three assists, and sophomore guard Maliya Perry averaged nine points and seven rebounds.

Senior guard Alexa Blake, a Chicago State University recruit, is expected to return soon after suffering extensive leg injuries during AAU play this past summer. Blake tore her left ACL, sprained an MCL and tore both meniscuses.

"I was chasing a girl down, I was just running and I was injured. That was all she wrote," said Blake, who during the preseason targeted Thursday, Dec. 1, as her return date. "We have a lot of talent. We have some young players, but our chemistry is great. We all get along. It's a family setting. We are working together very well."

Central gained a transfer in junior Kyla Whitehead, a 6-2 center from Huntsville, Alabama, who helped Huntsville to a Class 7A state semifinal her freshman season. Whitehead and Wallace will play center and power forward.

"Kyla is a natural leader. She challenges kids even though she is just getting to know them," Hedgepeth said. "Bexley's IQ for the game is unmatched. She has the ball and she can rebound and shoot. Pairing those two, that's exciting to see them grow together."

Whitehead's arrival pushed Perry to shooting guard, but she also might see time inside.

"(Guard) is a natural position for me. A lot of college coaches tell me I will be a (shooting guard or small forward)," Perry said. "We have to run everything right, know our roles and know where to be at the right time."

Rounding out the roster are seniors Elizabeth Fee (guard/forward) and Elizabeth Hicks (guard), juniors Kai Jones (guard), Grace Luther (forward) and J'Lana Stone (center/forward), sophomore Erin Whitehead (forward) and freshman Nicole Stephens (guard).

Central begins OCC-Ohio play Tuesday, Dec. 6, at Gahanna.

The Tigers, whose schedule includes two trips to showcases in greater Cincinnati as well as three games in the Naples Holiday Shootout from Dec. 28-30 in Naples, Florida, will not play at home until their 12th game of the season, Jan. 6 against Reynoldsburg.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

GIRLS BASKETBALL

Nov. 27 -- Huber Heights Wayne in Journey to the Tourney at West Chester Lakota West

Dec. 3 -- Lombard (Ill.) Montini Catholic in Hoops for Harvest at Fort Mitchell (Ky.) Dixie Heights

*Dec. 6 -- at Gahanna

*Dec. 9 -- at Pickerington North

*Dec. 16 -- at Lancaster

Dec. 17 -- at Upper Arlington

Dec. 20 -- at Groveport

Dec. 28-30 -- Naples Holiday Shootout at Community School of Naples (Fla.)

Jan. 3 -- at Westerville South

*Jan. 6 -- vs. Reynoldsburg

Jan. 10 -- at Westerville Central

*Jan. 13 -- at Grove City

Jan. 14 -- Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame in Classic in the Country at Berlin Hiland

*Jan. 20 -- vs. Gahanna

Jan. 24 -- vs. New Albany

*Jan. 27 -- vs. Pickerington North

*Feb. 3 -- vs. Lancaster

Feb. 4 -- vs. Newark

*Feb. 7 -- at Reynoldsburg

*Feb. 10 -- vs. Grove City

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the Central boys basketball and bowling teams:

BOYS BASKETBALL

Dec. 2 -- Cincinnati Taft in All-Ohio High School Kick-Off at Whitehall

Dec. 6 -- Home vs. Zanesville

BOWLING

*Dec. 5 -- Whitehall at Holiday Lanes

*Dec. 6 -- Pickerington North at Rule 3

*League contest