Columbus School for Girls basketball coach Isaac Klopfenstein had to be inventive as he prepared his team for the season.
The second-year coach has only nine players in the program, and one of those players won't be available until late December because of an academic pursuit. As a result, the Unicorns have practice limitations.
"We have had to be creative during practice because we cannot play 5-on-5," said Klopfenstein, whose team finished 12-10 overall last season and placed fifth (0-4) in the CCL behind champion Watterson (7-0). "We have done a lot of isolation and small-size drills to put the girls in game-time situations without having 10 players.
"The girls have responded well and we have had some good scrimmages. We have a small group that has become pretty tight knit and they feed off each other really well."
The Unicorns return their top two scorers in seniors Imani Babatunde and Brinley Zieg, both of whom were honorable mention all-district in Division III last season. Babatunde, a 5-foot-10 forward, led the team in scoring (8.8 points per game), rebounding (10.0) and steals (3.3).
"It's kind of crazy and seems like freshman year was yesterday," said Babatunde, a starter the past three seasons. "As a senior, it seems like I will have a bigger responsibility as a leader. We have to make sure the team works together and communicates."
Zieg, a 5-9 forward who also plays on the perimeter, averaged 7.0 points, 2.1 assists and 2.6 steals last season.
"I have always been all over the court," Zieg said. "I can't say dribbling is my strength, but I have been working really hard in practice on it, along with my layups."
The other returning starter for CSG is 5-4 junior shooting guard Annie Feibel, who began last season at point guard but moved to off-guard midway through the season. Ellen Monahan, a 5-4 sophomore guard, is another perimeter threat.
"(CSG) got a shooting machine last year and I was able to use it over the summer," Feibel said. "I took a lot of shots and I think my game continues to get better. Ellen and I are the leading 3-point scorers and we have been pushing each other to get better."
Eva Nicolosi, a 5-9 freshman, will play point guard. A four-sport athlete, she also plays lacrosse and soccer for the Unicorns and travel softball in the summer.
"Eva is a great athlete and we're going to put a lot on her shoulders early, but she has a competitor's attitude," said Klopfenstein, whose team opened Nov. 27 with a CCL game at Hartley. "She hasn't been afraid of any competition or anyone she has gone against in the preseason. She'll have to adapt to the speed of the varsity game, but she should do well."
Rounding out the roster are 5-8 senior forward Fredaye Wilkes, 5-8 junior forward Elizabeth Johnson, 6-1 sophomore post player Veronica Ross and 5-4 freshman guard Jolien Kusi.
Ross currently is participating in a specialized outdoor curriculum in North Carolina. She is expected to join the team during the holiday break.
"I think we will be more up-tempo than last year, and that comes with improved skills," Klopfenstein said. "Now they are much more comfortable grabbing a rebound and going with it. We still don't want to get in a track meet with a lot of these teams, but we want to make sure to take the first good shot."
Swim team 'on a mission' this season
The swimming and diving team is coming off the program's best finish in the Division II state tournament and expects to be one of the state's top teams again this season.
Despite losing 2017 graduates Miranda Donley, Madison Morbitt and Maggie Wagenbrenner as well as Alicia Donley after strong state performances, the Unicorns still have several talented performers back as well as some talented freshmen.
Last season, Miranda Donley, now competing at North Carolina State University, won her third consecutive state title in the 50-yard freestyle in a program-record 22.49 seconds and won the 100 free in a program-record 49.41, as CSG finished second (167 points) behind Gates Mills Hawken (305) as 58 teams scored.
Hawken won its 18th consecutive state title.
"We didn't think we would be state runner-up last year, but they hoped for big things and we have those goals again this year," sixth-year coach Stephanie Donley said. "A lot of people probably think that CSG is not as strong because it lost a lot, but these girls are on a mission this season."
The leading returnee for the Unicorns is sophomore Jordan Aurnou-Rhees, who placed third at state in the 100 butterfly (56.71) and fifth in the 200 individual medley (2:06.78). She joined Miranda Donley, Wagenbrenner and Alicia Donley on the winning 200 free relay, which set state, state-meet and program records with a time of 1:34.45. The same four girls placed second at state in the 400 free relay (3:28.99).
Wagenbrenner is now competing at DePauw University, while Alicia Donley transferred to Pickerington North for her junior season.
Other key returnees were juniors Emily Dewolf, Natalie Merryman, Allison Purdum and Anna Ray Ziegler.
The Unicorns have added junior Riley Rogers, a move-in from Michigan, and six freshmen, including Ava Fortney (breaststroke) and Nyah Funderburke (fly, free).
"We lost some great swimmers, but we have a lot more depth across the board," said coach Donley, whose team has won four consecutive district and CCL titles. "We don't have some of the speed that we have had in the past, but our goals are still big. They continue to push and encourage each other to get better."
The Unicorns also have nine divers, including seniors Maria Kaufman, Aerianna Porter, Katie Watts and Paige Whitt.
*Nov. 27 -- at Hartley
Nov. 28 -- at Madison Christian
Dec. 1 -- at Wellington
Dec. 7 -- vs. Village Academy
*Dec. 9 -- at Watterson
Dec. 12 -- at Bexley
Dec. 14 -- Fairbanks
Jan. 6 -- vs. Northridge
Jan. 9 -- vs. Delaware Christian
Jan. 11 -- at Fisher Catholic
*Jan. 13 -- vs. Ready
Jan. 16 -- at Grandview
Jan. 18 -- at Centerburg
Jan. 23 -- vs. New Hope Christian
Jan. 25 -- at West Jefferson
*Jan. 30 -- vs. DeSales
Feb. 1 -- at Newark Catholic
Feb. 6 -- at Columbus Academy
Feb. 8 -- vs. Patriot Prep
Feb. 13 -- vs. Horizon Science
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 2 -- St. Charles Showdown at home and at St. Charles
Dec. 9 -- vs. Olentangy Orange
Dec. 15 -- vs. Toledo St. Ursula
Dec. 16 -- Ned Reeb Invitational at Ohio State
Dec. 26 -- St. Charles Sprint Championships
Jan. 12-13 -- Northeast Classic at Branin Natatorium in Canton
Jan. 19 -- vs. Dublin Coffman and Pickerington North
Jan. 26 -- DeSales and Watterson at St. Charles
Jan. 27 -- CCL meet at St. Charles
Feb. 2 -- Bexley and Village Academy at St. Charles