Donovon Barrett has been a boys basketball coach for 19 seasons, but he has never encountered a situation like this.
In preparing for the Olentangy Berlin High School program's inaugural campaign, Barrett had a roster with zero varsity experience heading into the opening game Nov. 29 at home against Caledonia River Valley. Plus, the Bears have no history or foundation on which to build.
However, Barrett does have some friends who have firsthand experience at starting programs: Berlin's fall coaches.
"I was head coach at Buckeye Valley for 14 years and Westerville Central for five years, and they were already there when I started," Barrett said. "That's part of the uniqueness of the situation. You're not going to be able to talk to a lot of people who have been a part of this.
"The good thing is we have coaches at Berlin that have been through that situation and (Berlin athletics director) John (Betz) started the program at Orange a few years back. I asked the fall coaches how they dealt with it and it's good to be able to play off their experiences."
Grant Schrieber, a 5-foot-10 junior guard, scored 18 points as the Bears lost their opener to River Valley 71-43. Austin Corley, a 5-11 sophomore guard, added 11 points.
"The first few seconds of the opener was the first varsity experience for any of our players," said Barrett, whose team opened OCC-Cardinal Division play Dec. 4 against Dublin Jerome. "You can go around the state and I don't know if you will find a team with zero varsity experience, but that's us. It's where we are, and we'll be fine."
Junior post player Zak Stevens scored the first points for Berlin, making a pair of free throws with 2 minutes, 32 seconds left in the first quarter.
"We were very nervous because of the big crowd and everyone wanting to see the first game," Stevens said. "We were all worried about what we could do and not what we could do as a team as a whole. Some of the guys haven't played high school basketball before so we can use this experience to learn and grow as a team."
The varsity roster includes five juniors and five sophomores. Stevens is the tallest player at 6-6 while sophomore guard/forward C.J. Bishop is 6-4.
"In today's basketball, (height) doesn't mean anything," Barrett said. "It's how you use your guys. There is so much skill in the game, but it depends on how you use them. I would rather have experience and skill. Whether a kid is 6-9 or 5-5, it doesn't matter.
"We need coachable kids that will play hard. We don't have a lot of height, but some young guys grow in the future. We're more worried about our kids being coachable and how they are going to play right now."
Juniors Benant Bukari (5-8, guard/forward), Nick Camacho (6-0, guard) and Ethan Collins (6-3, guard/forward) and sophomores Kalvin Betz (6-0, guard/forward), Jake Moeller (6-3, guard/forward) and Bryce Reed (5-11, guard/forward) round out the roster.
"We have to continually get better and understand the game," Barrett said. "We have to work on our skills, continue to hit the weight room and get stronger. That's where the patience comes in.
"We have (a sense of) urgency on things we can control and patience with the rest. This isn't a 100-meter dash here. We're in a unique situation, and we want to see some growth."
Wrestling team expects to have strong start
Wrestling coach Josh Heffernan has gone from an OCC-Cardinal co-champion in Delaware to a fledgling team looking to excel in its inaugural season.
Like all programs at Berlin, there are no seniors, but the Bears have three juniors. The rest of the 25-athlete roster features sophomores (10) and freshmen (12).
"We're close to filling (all 14 weight classes)," said Heffernan, whose Delaware team tied Hilliard Bradley for the OCC-Cardinal title last season at 5-1. "Our plan is to develop guys. I don't want to throw these younger guys to the wolves, especially early. They will be ready to go with the wolves by the end of the season."
Leading the Bears are a pair of former Olentangy wrestlers in juniors Israel Foston (145/152 pounds) and Corey Hill (170). Hill was a district qualifier at 170 last winter and Foston was the workout partner of four-time state-qualifier Xander Gore, who placed eighth at 145 in the Division I state tournament last March.
"Corey had a good season as a district qualifier and Izzy was Xander Gore's sparring partner and he has been waiting for his time," Heffernan said. "He's going to turn a lot of heads."
Heffernan also is excited about his younger wrestlers, especially three freshmen in Hugh Peterson (132/138), Ian Stokell (152/160) and Caiden Hooks (138/145), who competes despite being blind.
"I wasn't sure about our freshmen," said Heffernan, whose team will compete in Division II in the postseason. "Caiden, Hugh and Ian were freshmen who did a lot of offseason wrestling, but I wasn't sure where they would be when they started the season. After seeing them in some of our scrimmages they are ready for varsity competition."
Berlin opened Dec. 1 in the Mount Vernon Bad Apple Brawl, finishing fourth (241 points) of 12 teams behind the champion and host Yellow Jackets (459).
Hill won at 182, going 5-0 with four pins. Sophomore Antonio Alonso (heavyweight) was second, and Foston (152), Hooks (145) and freshman Matt Kirsop (220) placed third. Sophomore Justin Rader (132), freshman Hugh Peterson (138) and Stokell (160) were fifth.
"We see some great things and some not-so-great things, which is how it is with young teams," Heffernan said. "Sometimes you see them and they look like seniors and other times they look like eighth-graders, but they work their tails off. They have bought in and that's all we can ask them to do."
Nov. 29 -- vs. Caledonia River Valley
*Dec. 4 -- at Dublin Jerome
*Dec. 7 -- at Dublin Scioto
Dec. 11 -- vs. St. Charles
*Dec. 14 -- vs. Hilliard Bradley
*Dec. 21 -- vs. Hilliard Darby
Dec. 22 -- at Buckeye Valley
Dec. 28 -- at New Albany
*Jan. 4 -- at Thomas Worthington
Jan. 5 -- at Watkins Memorial
*Jan. 8 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
*Jan. 11 -- at Delaware
Jan. 14 -- at International
*Jan. 18 -- vs. Dublin Scioto
*Jan. 22 -- vs. Dublin Jerome
*Jan. 25 -- at Hilliard Bradley
Jan. 26 -- vs. Horizon Science
*Feb. 1 -- vs. Thomas Worthington
*Feb. 5 -- at Hilliard Darby
*Feb. 8 -- at Worthington Kilbourne
Feb. 9 -- vs. Bexley
*Feb. 15 -- vs. Delaware
Dec. 1 -- Mount Vernon Bad Apple Brawl
Dec. 6 -- at Teays Valley
*Dec. 13 -- at Hilliard Darby
Dec. 14-15 -- Olentangy Liberty Classic
*Dec. 20 -- at Hilliard Bradley
Dec. 22 -- vs. Amanda-Clearcreek, Buckeye Valley and Olentangy Orange
Jan. 5 -- Licking Valley Invitational
*Jan. 10 -- at Thomas Worthington
*Jan. 16 -- vs. Dublin Jerome
Jan. 18-19 -- Alliance Top Gun Tournament
*Jan. 24 -- at Dublin Scioto
Jan. 26 -- Rieman Invitational at Delaware
Jan. 31 -- vs. Upper Arlington
*Feb. 7 -- vs. Worthington Kilbourne
*Feb. 14 -- at Delaware
Below are the coming schedules for the Berlin girls basketball, bowling, gymnastics, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Dec. 7 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto
Dec. 8 -- Home vs. Watterson
Dec. 11 -- At New Albany
*Dec. 10 -- Marysville at Delaware Lanes
*Dec. 12 -- New Albany at Delaware Lanes
Dec. 11 -- At *Thomas Worthington with Dresden Tri-Valley and Washington Court House Miami Trace
*Dec. 7 -- Scioto at Chiller North
*Dec. 9 -- Dublin Coffman at Chiller Dublin
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 11 -- Worthington Kilbourne at Thomas Worthington