The Pickerington High School North girls basketball team began its season under an all-too-familiar dark cloud.

The Pickerington High School North girls basketball team began its season under an all-too-familiar dark cloud.

Continuing a recent trend, the Panthers were shorthanded entering the season and expect to be for the near future. Junior forward Kyla Sawyer is finishing her recovery from a cartilage transplant in her left knee, and junior guard Maddie O'Connell suffered a knee injury during an AAU tournament in late July and is expected to miss the entire season.

Sawyer is expected back within the next few weeks, lending additional size to a lineup anchored by senior forward Danielle Bradley and promising sophomore guards Mikale Bates and Aleece Lukacsko.

"We're further ahead than I thought we'd be," said 14th-year coach Dave Butcher, whose team opened with a 91-14 win over Franklin Heights on Nov. 25. "That's two starters (Sawyer and O'Connell) we are down.

"I like the dynamics of our team. I like our athleticism. We have some talented young girls. Our big deal is a lack of varsity experience. We will try to use some of our quickness, and we are pretty quick. We have some potential to be a good team. We just have to get the pieces back together."

The 6-foot-1 Bradley averaged a team-high 12.1 points last season and was named first-team all-OCC-Ohio Division and honorable mention all-district. The Quinnipiac University recruit will fill the center and power forward roles along with Sawyer, who stands 5-11, and 6-foot senior Julia Kopp.

"We can run a lot more pick-and-rolls because our bigs can shoot," Bradley said. "It gives us an advantage. A lot of teams have bigs who are our size, but you can't bring them out that far. Our team, we can do that, pull up and work quickly."

North's third senior, 5-7 guard Hannah Rickman, also has moved into a starting role.

Candidates for the other starting spots were Bates (5-1), Lukacsko (5-2), sophomore guard Avery Hart (5-6) and 5-7 freshman guard Sydney Styles. They will have to help replace the scoring lost to graduation with guards Lauryn Lipscomb (9.6 points per game), who now plays at Wheeling Jesuit University, and Paige Matijasich (9.1), who signed with Kenyon College after her junior and senior seasons both were cut short by torn ACLs.

Sawyer missed the first seven games of her sophomore season because of a previous left knee injury. She played through pain after that surgery -- but did not tell her coaches or teammates -- because her cartilage did not heal as doctors hoped, and underwent the cartilage transplant May 2.

"I tried to fight through the pain and play. I should have said something," said Sawyer, who was medically cleared to practice throughout the preseason. "Right now, I feel really good. I couldn't shuffle side-to-side then, but I can now. I can practice, but I can't play. I am already getting my speed back. I can shuffle (from) side-to-side. I know it will help my game."

Rounding out the roster is 6-0 junior forward Katie Bailey.

North played Nov. 29 at Worthington Kilbourne and will begin OCC-Ohio play Tuesday, Dec, 6, at Grove City.

The Panthers went 10-13 overall and 6-8 in the league last season, placing fifth behind champion Pickerington Central (14-0).

North lost its Division I district tournament opener for the second consecutive season, falling 36-27 at Hilliard Bradley.

"That's been tough, (especially considering) we won 23 district titles in a row," Butcher said of a personal streak that spanned from 1989-2011 and dated to the original Pickerington High School. "That's a problem with taking that (first-round) bye (in the district tournament). You are in the (second round) against a good team, but you haven't played a basketball game. We've done that because we thought it was the best route. That's what you have to do for your team."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

GIRLS BASKETBALL

Nov. 25 -- vs. Franklin Heights

Nov. 29 -- at Worthington Kilbourne

*Dec. 6 -- at Grove City

*Dec. 9 -- vs. Pickerington Central

Dec. 13 -- vs. Hilliard Davidson

*Dec. 16 -- vs. Gahanna

Dec. 20 -- vs. Westland

Dec. 27-29 -- Carolina Invitational at Charleston, S.C.

Jan. 3 -- at Dublin Coffman

*Jan. 6 -- at Lancaster

Jan. 10 -- vs. Groveport

*Jan. 12 -- at Reynoldsburg

Jan. 17 -- vs. Dresden Tri-Valley

*Jan. 20 -- vs. Grove City

Jan. 24 -- at Canal Winchester

*Jan. 27 -- at Pickerington Central

Jan. 31 -- vs. Westerville South

*Feb. 3 -- at Gahanna

*Feb. 7 -- vs. Lancaster

*Feb. 10 -- vs. Reynoldsburg

*League contest

Below are the coming schedules for the North boys basketball, bowling and wrestling teams:

BOYS BASKETBALL

Dec. 2 -- Cincinnati Moeller in Ohio Valley Hoops Invitational at Southern State Community College

Dec. 6 -- Home vs. Delaware

BOWLING

*Dec. 5 -- Columbus West at Game of Western Columbus

*Dec. 6 -- Pickerington Central at Rule 3

WRESTLING

Dec. 3 -- Lee Spitzer Golden Bear Invitational at Upper Arlington

*League contest