Size is not a strong suit for the Olentangy Orange High School boys basketball team, but what the Pioneers lack in stature, they more than make up for with chemistry and balance.
Coach Anthony Calo said those traits have helped his team build a 9-4 overall record heading into its contest Jan. 22 against Dublin Coffman.
"Our starting lineup is all guards," Calo said. "(Senior) Nik (Brannon at 6-foot-4) and (junior) Ryan (Cutler at 6-3) are listed as forwards, but they ultimately are bigger guards.
"We're balanced and that helps. It helps that all five of our guys can shoot the basketball. It spreads the floor. We complement each other well. We have drivers and we have shooters, and that makes it tough on defenses. The kids are doing a nice job."
Through 13 games, the Pioneers had three players with scoring averages in double figures and two more closing in. Bryson Lane, a 5-8 senior, led at 15.3 points, followed by 6-0 senior Luke Ballinger (13.1), 5-7 sophomore Andre Irvin (10.8), Cutler (8.4) and Brannon (8.3).
Where does the balance come from?
"I think it's because we move the ball well and do a good job spacing the floor so we are able to do a lot of drive-kicks and that's where we get a lot of our open 3s," Lane said. "It allows me to get downhill easier because when you have a lot of (open) space around, (defenders) have to stay out on (the shooters) and that makes it easier for me to get to the basket and (then pass back out) to help ball movement. Spacing is important because if you are all bunched up (the defense) can guard a lot more people at one time."
Brannon scored 15 points and Irvin added 10 as the Pioneers improved to 4-2 in the OCC-Buckeye Division by edging Liberty 51-47 on Jan. 18. It was the first league loss for the Patriots.
"I think we have had some tough losses, but as the year has gone on, we're jelling together better as a group and figuring things out as we go along," Brannon said. "Bryson, Luke and I have been playing together since the sixth grade and Ryan for a couple years. (Andre) is new this year (to the starting lineup). ... We got close over the summer and it has worked out well."
That chemistry is one of the ingredients for success, according to Ballinger.
"I think it's because of the relationships that we have built. We're all a pretty close team," said Ballinger, who had a team-high 33 3-pointers through 13 games. "Everyone is close to each other and we all get along. It's been a great year.
"We love sharing the ball and we like to see each other succeed. It's exciting because it is someone different every game. If someone has an off night someone else steps up."
Cutler believes it's the altruistic nature of his teammates that helps bring about the balance.
"We have a lot of unselfish guys who don't care how many points they score," he said. "Coach wants us to move the ball and get the best shot at all times ... whether it's a layup or kicking the ball out for a 3.
"We can trust everyone on the floor because everyone can shoot. It doesn't matter who scores because we can find a way."
While the offense has been clicking, Irvin said defense is the key to making everything come together.
"We need to be more sound defensively like stopping bigger teams and keeping them off the glass," he said. "When we get stops in transition, that's when we are at our best. We need to do that as much as we can to maximize the amount of time we are in transition."
Perone, Grabau lead girls basketball team
Lauren Perone and Anna Grabau were the leading scorers for the girls basketball team through 15 games.
Perone was averaging 9.5 points and Grabau was averaging 8.1. Riley Duffey was next at 7.1 points.
The Pioneers were 4-11 overall before playing Coffman on Jan. 22.
Orange dropped to 1-6 in the OCC-Buckeye with a 58-20 loss to Liberty on Jan. 18.
Swim teams prepare for OCC-Buckeye meet
The boys and girls swimming and diving teams will compete in the OCC-Buckeye meet Jan. 26 at Thomas Worthington.
Senior Luke Cheetham will try to defend his diving title. He won last year with 413.8 points as the boys team finished second (259) behind Liberty (400.5). The girls team was third (186) behind Liberty (279) and Olentangy (273.5).
Below are the coming schedules for the Orange boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 25 -- At Westerville Central. The Pioneers defeated the Warhawks 67-62 on Dec. 14.
*Jan. 25 -- Home vs. Central. The Pioneers lost to the Warhawks 52-37 on Dec. 14.
Jan. 28 -- Home vs. Watterson
*Jan. 24 -- Liberty at Capri Lanes
*Jan. 30 -- Big Walnut at Capri Lanes
*Jan. 31 -- Worthington Kilbourne at Capri Lanes
*Jan. 26 -- Dublin Scioto at Chiller North
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 26 -- OCC-Buckeye meet at Thomas Worthington
*Jan. 24 -- Home vs. Central
Jan. 26 -- Lewistown Indian Lake Duals