The Groveport Madison High School girls basketball team has taken some small steps toward improvement, but first-year coach Eugene Love said transforming the program into a perennial winner could take years.
The Cruisers were 3-11 overall and 1-4 in the OCC-Capital Division before playing Big Walnut on Jan. 16.
They finished 10-13 last season after going 8-61 over the previous three seasons, but lost their top two players from a year ago to graduation in point guard Diaba Diane and forward Imani Johnson, who combined to average 22.1 points and 14.1 rebounds.
Groveport returned five players this year, but one of the returnees, junior guard Aulana Wilburn, quit the team a few games into the season.
"The program cannot be fixed overnight," Love said. "It's a big undertaking. We've seen some incremental improvement, but we're trying to change the culture of the entire program.
"It's basically starting from near scratch. It takes a change in mental will and a whole lot of skill development, starting with the basic fundamentals. We're spending a considerable amount of practice time working on fundamentals and habits."
The Cruisers have played better recently, beating Whitehall 47-33 on Jan. 6 to end a seven-game losing streak and losing to Central Crossing 57-50 in overtime Jan. 9. They will play a league game Friday, Jan. 19, at Franklin Heights, which they defeated 46-24 on Dec. 8 behind 25 points from junior guard Lanie White.
"We have some girls who can give us some offense and a few who really work hard, but playing team defense and communicating have been difficult," Love said. "We've had some illness and some minor injuries and we're not going to take bigger steps until we have everyone attending all practices fully healthy. We've only got seven girls who are varsity regulars, so, at times, we take a step forward, followed by three or four steps backward."
Against Whitehall, White had 17 points, junior guard Reina Rhone scored nine, junior guard Brooke Reese scored eight and senior forward Melia Walder scored seven.
Those four players combined to score all of the Cruisers' points against Central Crossing. Rhone and Walder both had 14 points, Reese scored 13 and White scored nine.
Through 14 games, White was averaging 9.7 points, followed by Reese (8.1), Walder (6.7) and Rhone (4.5).
"Brooke probably is the most talented player we have, but she has a lot on her shoulders being our point guard," Love said. "She's coming along well and things are starting to click because she's recognizing things a lot quicker. Lanie is scoring well at shooting guard. She's aggressive on offense and can make some 3s.
"Melia brings it every game on both ends of the floor. She competes hard and doesn't back down from a challenge or from any opponent. She's a hard-nosed worker with a great mindset and we'd be in good shape if we had 22 of her in our program."
Boys basketball team seeks sweep of Falcons
The boys basketball team will look to sweep Franklin Heights in OCC-Capital play when it plays host to the Falcons on Friday, Jan. 19.
The Cruisers beat the Falcons 77-57 on Dec. 8 behind 18 points from Jhaiquez Ford and 14 points from Antwon Hampton.
Groveport endured another close loss Jan. 9 at Central Crossing, falling to the Comets 58-56. It marked the fourth time this season that the Cruisers have lost by one or two points, including two games in overtime.
Groveport, which was outscored 18-11 in the fourth quarter by the Comets, was 4-8 overall and 2-2 in the OCC-Capital before playing Big Walnut on Jan. 16.
The Cruisers had been scheduled to complete a suspended game against Pickerington Central on Jan. 16, but the contest was bumped after their league game against Big Walnut was postponed Jan. 12 because of bad weather.
The game against Central was suspended Dec. 19 in the second quarter after a rim-breaking dunk by the Tigers' Adrian Nelson.
Against Central Crossing, Hampton had 18 points, Curtis Jacobs scored 11 and Nahki Taylor scored 10.
Bowlers contending for league titles
The boys bowling team had an opportunity to clinch a share of the OCC-Cardinal title when it competed against Hilliard Darby on Jan. 16.
Entering the week, the Cruisers led the league at 3-1, while Darby, Delaware and Newark all were 2-1. Groveport will close OCC competition against Delaware. Their match was postponed Jan. 5 and, as of last week, had yet to be rescheduled.
The Cruisers, who were 4-3 overall entering the week, also compete in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-B Division, where they were 4-2 and tied with Darby for third place behind Pickerington Central and Pickerington North (both 7-0).
Groveport also has a COHSBC-B match with Columbus Academy to make up after their Jan. 12 match was postponed.
"Two of our last three matches have been (postponed)," said coach Christi Middendorf, whose team defeated Thomas Worthington 2,232-1,852 on Jan. 11. "We want to finish in the top three in (the COHSBC), win the OCC and hit our stride in the postseason.
"All five starters have had really good games and they're working very well in Baker games. They encourage each other and help each other, but at times, if one of them gets down on himself, his attitude can affect the others. We need to keep those attitudes in check and understand that everyone is entitled to a bad ball or a bad game. We want to avoid everyone having a bad day on the same day, so the attitudes matter."
Entering the week, Chaz Wilson led the Cruisers with a 200.4 game average, followed by Lonnie Stuckey (188.5), Corey Claprood (162.6), Tyler Miracle (158.5) and Stephen Snyder (155.1).
The girls team was 5-2 overall, 4-2 in the COHSBC-B and 3-1 in the OCC-Cardinal entering a match against Darby on Jan. 16.
Entering the week, the Cruisers were tied with Lancaster and Pickerington North for second in the COHSBC-B behind Darby (6-0) and were second in the OCC-Cardinal behind Delaware (3-0).
"Despite their record, the girls have struggled a bit with the exception of Leah Deaner," Middendorf said. "She's having a good year and the girls are battling."
Deaner entered the week with a team-best 179 average, followed by Shayana Carter (146.2) and Katie Cordle (124.2).
Wrestling team falls in league opener
The wrestling lost its OCC-Capital opener, falling to host Canal Winchester 37-32 on Jan. 11.
The defending league champions, the Cruisers will look to even their league record when they play host to Franklin Heights on Thursday, Jan. 18.
Groveport then will compete in the Robin Drumm Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 20, at Heath.
Below are the coming schedules for the Groveport Madison boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 19 – Home vs. Franklin Heights. The Cruisers beat the Falcons 77-57 on Dec. 8.
Jan. 20 – Home vs. St. Charles
Jan. 23 – At Pickerington North
*Jan. 19 – At Franklin Heights. The Cruisers beat the Falcons 46-24 on Dec. 8.
Jan. 23 – Home vs. Pickerington North
*Jan. 18 – Centennial at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl
*Jan. 22 – Reynoldsburg at Holiday Lanes
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 20 – Central Crossing at Urbancrest YMCA
*Jan. 18 – Home vs. Franklin Heights
Jan. 20 – Robin Drumm Invitational at Heath