After reaching new heights last season, the Grove City Christian School boys basketball team is hoping to establish its own identity this winter.

The Eagles won their first district title a season ago, defeating Harvest Prep 64-60 before losing to Portsmouth Clay 100-97 in double overtime in a Division IV regional semifinal to finish 22-5 overall.

Despite losing eight players to graduation, coach Chris Timlin believes the Eagles have the potential to again challenge for a district championship.

"This group is more motivated than any group that I've coached recently because they've had to wait their turn for such a long time," said Timlin, who is in his eighth season. "I had so many seniors that had to work their way through the freshman program and play two years of j.v. basketball. It's a highly motivated group."

The Eagles could have a different path to that district title as Harvest Prep, Newark Catholic and Wellington have moved to Division III.

The Eagles opened Dec. 5 by defeating Cardington 74-65. Senior forward Noah Tomlinson (6-foot-5) scored 31 points and sophomore guard Brayden Holbrook (6-1) added 12.

Tomlinson is a key returnee from last season, when he averaged 9.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.

"We really don't mention the team from last year," he said. "We're focusing on this year's team and making it even further than last year's team."

Also back are 6-4 senior forward Caleb Sullivan and Holbrook.

"I think Brayden is going to be the surprise of our team," Timlin said. "If everything is going the way that it should for our team, he's going to be a kid that's probably going to average close to 15 or 16 points a night. He's a very capable scorer."

Senior Riley Peters (5-10) has replaced 2017 graduate Matt Bailey at point guard.

Also looking to contribute are seniors Kendrick Beard (6-1, forward), Isaac Harmeyer (5-10, guard), Trent Reed (5-10, guard) and Noah Whitaker (6-1, guard), juniors Brett Baker (6-0, forward), Gavin Robbins (5-11, guard) and Taylor Stauffer (5-10, guard) and sophomore Timothy Sullivan (6-2, forward).

Grove City Christian defeated Zanesville Rosecrans 58-45 on Dec. 9 in its MSL-Cardinal Division opener. Peters scored 19 points, Holbrook had 14 and Tomlinson added 13.

"We're just trying to stay focused and stay positive with this group and what they can do to continue a championship tradition at the varsity level," Timlin said.

Grove City Christian is seeking its third consecutive MSL-Cardinal championship after sharing the title with Harvest Prep for the second year in a row. Both went 9-1 in the league last year.

The league became even more competitive with the addition of Wellington and Rosecrans. Wellington reached the Division IV state tournament in each of the past two seasons.

Last season, Bailey averaged 17.5 points and was district and MSL-Cardinal Player of the Year. He also reached 1,000 points for his career, finishing with 1,323.

Another 2017 graduate, Brandon Baker, joined Bailey in reaching 1,000 points, finishing with 1,386 after averaging 18.5 last season. He was named first-team all-district and all-league.

Girls basketball team under new leadership

The girls basketball team has a new leader, as Mindy Bankey has replaced Bob Williams as coach.

Williams led the Eagles for two years, finishing 19-29 overall and 10-10 in the MSL-Cardinal. They were 9-15 overall and 4-6 in the league last season.

Bankey was the interim coach in the 2014-15 season and has since coached the j.v. team.

"I was interested, but I wasn't 100 percent sold on it yet," Bankey said. "I wanted to stay in a role with the program, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to assume the head-coaching spot. I'm glad I did; (I have) no regrets. It's a great group of kids. They're young, we're having fun and they're working hard."

The Eagles were 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the MSL-Cardinal before playing Fairfield Christian on Dec. 12.

Grove City Christian defeated New Hope Christian 66-55 on Dec. 1 in the first round of the Grove City Christian Tipoff Classic, outscoring the Statesmen 21-9 in the fourth quarter.

Junior Naomi Cotter, a 5-9 guard/forward, led the way with 28 points. She is the only returning starter, having averaged a team-best seven rebounds last season.

The Eagles lost to Elyria Open Door Christian 46-45 in the title game Dec. 2 and fell to Wellington 46-25 on Dec. 7 in their league opener.

Cotter scored 14 points against Open Door Christian and 10 against Wellington.

Grove City Christian also lost to Rosecrans 54-34 on Dec. 9. Cotter scored 12 points and senior Jessalyn Hoyt (5-9, forward) added 11.

Also back are senior Dalina Phomphengchane (5-4, guard) and sophomores Sophia Hoyt (5-9, forward), Juliana Hunt (5-8, guard) and Madeline Lewis (5-7, forward/guard).

Other players are senior Savannah Carter (5-7, forward), sophomores Natalie Bankey (5-4, guard), Madeline Bliss (5-4, guard) and Sarah Frye (5-5, guard) and freshmen Olivia Carson (5-6, guard) and Tara Johnson (5-8, forward).

Carter missed last season with a knee injury.

"We'd love to have a winning record, as every coach would," Bankey said. "The more growth we see with the girls is exactly where we want to go. We know it's tough not having a lot of experience. We're playing a lot of programs that are strong."

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank

Schedules

BOYS BASKETBALL

Dec. 5 -- at Cardington

*Dec. 9 -- vs. Zanesville Rosecrans

*Dec. 15 -- at Wellington

*Dec. 19 -- vs. Fairfield Christian

Dec. 22 -- at Newark Catholic

Dec. 28 -- St. Paris Graham in

Rockford Parkway Holiday Invitational

Dec. 29 -- Parkway or Mount Victory Ridgemont in Parkway Holiday Invitational

Jan. 2 -- vs. Gahanna Christian

*Jan. 4 -- at Berne Union

*Jan. 6 -- vs. Harvest Prep

*Jan. 12 -- vs. Fisher Catholic

Jan. 15 -- Worthington Christian at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland

*Jan. 18 -- at Millersport

*Jan. 20 -- at Zanesville Rosecrans

*Jan. 26 -- vs. Wellington

*Jan. 30 -- at Fairfield Christian

*Feb. 3 -- vs. Berne Union

Feb. 6 -- vs. Hartley

*Feb. 9 -- at Harvest Prep

Feb. 10 -- vs. Danville

*Feb. 13 -- at Fisher Catholic

*Feb. 16 -- vs. Millersport

GIRLS BASKETBALL

Dec. 1 -- New Hope Christian in Grove City Christian Tipoff Classic

Dec. 2 -- Elyria Open Door Christian in Grove City Christian Tipoff Classic

*Dec. 7 -- vs. Wellington

*Dec. 9 -- vs. Zanesville Rosecrans

*Dec. 12 -- at Fairfield Christian

Dec. 14 -- at Village Academy

*Dec. 16 -- vs. Berne Union

*Dec. 21 -- at Harvest Prep

Dec. 28 -- Rockford Parkway in Parkway Holiday Invitational

Dec. 29 -- Mount Victory Ridgemont or Van Wert Lincolnview in Parkway Holiday Invitational

*Jan. 5 -- at Fisher Catholic

Jan. 8 -- at Grandview

*Jan. 14 -- vs. Millersport

*Jan. 11 -- at Wellington

Jan. 13 -- vs. Delaware Christian

*Jan. 20 -- at Zanesville Rosecrans

*Jan. 23 -- vs. Fairfield Christian

*Jan. 25 -- vs. Fisher Catholic

*Jan. 27 -- at Berne Union

Feb. 1 -- at New Hope Christian

*Feb. 2 -- vs. Harvest Prep

*Feb. 10 -- at Millersport

*League contest