Fourth-year coach Brett Norris knows his Hilliard Bradley High School boys basketball team has the potential to reach new heights, but it must be challenged to reach its lofty goals.
That's why Norris loaded the non-league schedule with top-flight opponents. He wants the Jaguars to be battle-tested by the time they reach the postseason.
Bradley has returned its top six players after finishing a program-best 24-2 overall last season. It had won 23 consecutive games before losing to Upper Arlington 61-48 in the program's first Division I district final.
"We have all five starters back from last year and we have (senior) Jack Rondy back, so our top six return," said Norris, whose team won its first league title by going 12-0 in the OCC-Cardinal Division, three games ahead of runner-up Dublin Jerome (9-3). "We wanted to beef up our schedule to make sure we were ready when the games mean the most."
A pair of four-year starters lead the Jaguars in 6-foot point guard Braden Norris and 6-6 forward Isaiah Speelman. Norris, the coach's son, averaged 16.1 points, 3.8 assists and 1.7 steals and was 86-for-219 (39.3 percent) on 3-point attempts last season, earning second-team all-state, first-team all-district and league Player of the Year honors.
Speelman, who averaged a team-high 17.7 points and 5.4 rebounds and was 45-for-120 (37.5 percent) on 3-pointers, was third-team all-district and first-team all-league.
"We're really excited about the team," Speelman said. "It will be a challenge because the OCC is loaded. We can't sit back and think we have things figured out. Everything is a process and we have to go step by step before we get anything done."
The other three returning starters are 6-2 sophomore guard Matt Allocco (honorable mention all-district, first-team all-league; 11.2 points, 3.8 assists), 6-4 junior forward Zach Hummel (second-team all-league; 3.8 points, team-high 6.0 rebounds) and 6-3 sophomore forward Chris Mayfield (special mention all-league). Rondy, a 6-0 forward, was honorable mention all-league.
Added to the mix is 6-6 freshman forward Jack Pugh, who moved in from California but played in the Jonathan Alder school district as a seventh-grader. Senior Kory Taylor, a 6-6 forward, returns after missing last season with a foot injury suffered while playing wide receiver for the football team.
Rounding out the roster are senior Matt Hanson (5-11, guard), junior Winston Stone (5-10, guard), sophomore Luke Erwin (6-1, guard) and freshmen A.J. Mirgon (5-11, guard) and Keaton Norris (5-7, guard).
"We have a lot of experience back, but we still are starting over with a new team and a new commitment to the process," coach Norris said. "For us, the message is that each team is different, and we have to be careful to view things that way. We can't skip any steps. We need to look at things with the proper respect for what we need to do to get better."
Part of the process is the beefed up schedule. The Jaguars opened with one of those challenges, defeating Union (Kentucky) Cooper 70-68 on Dec. 2 in the Ohio Valley Classic at Southern State Community College in Hillsboro. Cooper was state runner-up last season in Kentucky, where there is only one basketball division.
Speelman scored Bradley's final four points against Cooper, including the game-winner with 3 seconds remaining, as part of his 20 points. Allocco led the Jaguars with 26 points and Braden Norris had 16.
Other tough matchups include Northland (Jan. 6), defending 3A Florida state champion Orlando Christian Prep (Jan. 13) and Pickerington Central (Jan. 27).
"I think coach Norris did a great job with scheduling," Speelman said. "We want to climb the mountain and we're going to play the best (teams) in the (postseason), so the only way to get there is to prepare ourselves now. We're going to challenge ourselves because you have to play the best to be the best."
Bradley opens OCC-Cardinal play Friday, Dec. 8, at Thomas Worthington.
Wrestling team has mix of veterans, youth
The wrestling team returns eight starters from last season and three district qualifiers, including Division I state-qualifier Zander Ellison.
The junior went 0-2 at state at 126 pounds to finish 33-12.
"To have state experience in your room is crucial," ninth-year coach John Riggs said. "You need those kids that can set an example and show leadership to the underclassmen. They need to know that it's an attainable goal and they can get (to state) themselves."
Also back after competing at district are seniors Issa Khalil (195) and J.T. Lemmerman (152). Another district qualifier, 106-pound sophomore Tyler Bemrose, moved to Xenia.
Other returning starters are seniors Kellan Grainger (160), Adam McCardle (182) and Kade Wareham (145), junior Dylan Ball (170) and sophomore Avery Ramsey (113).
"I think our work ethic is good and we have a lot of young faces," Riggs said. "We have a good blend of experience and youth. They're good, hard-working kids who will get better throughout the season."
Also expected to contribute are sophomores Kyle DeMoss (195), Matthew Drovdlic (145), Jacob Noble (heavyweight) and Wade Troutman (195) and freshmen Max Cooper (132), Ibrahim Musa (120/126) and Deacon Sawchuk (106).
The Jaguars opened Dec. 2 by finishing sixth (97 points) behind champion Lancaster (183.5) in the 11-team Olentangy Invitational. Sawchuk won at 106, and Grainger was second at 160.
Ellison (138) and Ramsey (113) placed third, and Cooper (132), DeMoss (195) and Wareham (145) were fourth.
Baker to replace Long as girls tennis coach
Colleen Baker has been named girls tennis coach, pending school board approval.
She will replace Donna Long, who recently resigned after three seasons to spend more time with her family.
The Jaguars finished 16-5 overall this past season and tied Dublin Scioto and Thomas for second (4-2) in the OCC-Cardinal behind Jerome (6-0). They set the program record for wins.
"Both of my married daughters are expecting, so I want to make sure to spend time with my grandchildren," said Long, who plans to continue coaching the boys team in the spring.
Baker, a 2010 Davidson graduate, played high school and junior tennis. She previously has coached at Weaver Middle School.
"We're excited to have Colleen join our coaching family," athletics director Cort Hamilton said. "She currently teaches science in our building.
"We certainly are appreciative of what Donna has done with our student-athletes and we wish her the best. She is one of the good people in athletics and we're happy that she will continue to coach the boys program."
Dec. 2 -- Union (Ky.) Cooper in the Ohio Valley Classic at Southern State Community College
Dec. 6 -- vs. Teays Valley
*Dec. 8 -- at Thomas Worthington
Dec. 16 -- vs. Cincinnati La Salle
*Dec. 19 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
*Dec. 22 -- vs. Dublin Jerome
Dec. 29 -- at Hilliard Davidson
*Jan. 5 -- at Delaware
Jan. 6 -- Northland in The Challenge at Pickerington North
*Jan. 9 -- at Dublin Scioto
*Jan. 12 -- at Hilliard Darby
Jan. 13 -- Orlando (Fla.) Christian Prep in Flyin' to the Hoop at Kettering Fairmont
*Jan. 19 -- vs. Thomas Worthington
*Jan. 23 -- at Worthington Kilbourne
Jan. 27 -- Pickerington Central in Jared Sullinger Ohio Scholastic Play-by-Play Classic at Ohio Dominican
*Feb. 2 -- vs. Delaware
Feb. 3 -- vs. Dayton Ponitz
*Feb. 6 -- at Dublin Jerome
*Feb. 9 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
Feb. 10 -- vs. Cleveland Benedictine
*Feb. 16 -- vs. Hilliard Darby
Feb. 17 -- at Zanesville
Dec. 2 -- Olentangy Invitational
Dec. 5 -- Westerville South Double Dual
*Dec. 14 -- vs. Thomas Worthington
Dec. 16 -- Kettering Fairmont Firebird Classic at Wright State
Dec. 27-28 -- GMVA Holiday Tournament at Vandalia Butler
*Jan. 11 -- at Dublin Scioto
Jan. 13 -- Porter Memorial Tournament at home
*Jan. 18 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
*Jan. 25 -- at Dublin Jerome
Jan. 28 -- Watkins Memorial Invitational
*Feb. 8 -- at Delaware
*Feb. 15 -- vs. Hilliard Darby
Below are the coming schedules for the Bradley girls basketball, bowling and gymnastics teams:
*Dec. 8 -- Home vs. Thomas Worth-ington
Dec. 9 -- At Hilliard Davidson
Dec. 12 -- Home vs. Olentangy
*Dec. 8 -- Groveport at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl
Dec. 9 -- Holiday Baker Marathon at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
*Dec. 11 -- Newark at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl
Dec. 11 -- At Davidson with Hilliard Darby, Central Crossing, Franklin Heights, Grove City and Westland