Senior defenseman Nolan Kunzelman understands he's experiencing what has been like a golden age when it comes to the Dublin Jerome hockey program.

The Celtics advanced to the state tournament for the first time in 2015, made it back to that level each of the past two seasons and became the first team from central Ohio to reach the championship game a year ago.

There are nine seniors, including five key players from last season, who are focused on continuing the recent run of success.

Jerome opened Nov. 24 against St. Charles at Chiller Dublin and will compete in the Chiller Thanksgiving Classic that runs Friday, Nov. 29, through Sunday, Dec. 1, at Chiller North.

Last season, the Celtics finished 35-3-0-1 overall, won the CHC-Red Division title at 14-1 and their ninth Blue Jackets Cup championship and beat Hunting Valley University School 3-2 in overtime in a state semifinal before losing to Cleveland St. Ignatius 7-2 in the state final.

"It's going well," Kunzelman said. "We're working hard in practice, we're moving quickly and it's good to see us jelling so fast. It's been an exciting time and it was awesome being a part of (the last two state tournament) teams. We know we can work towards that again and that's what we're striving for."

Kunzelman, who is in his third season with the Celtics after playing at the travel level as a freshman, is expected to lead a defense that includes junior T.J. Boroff, Sam Cho, Hayden Hale and Gavin Mlicki and freshman Carter Brown.

Senior forward Avery Mlicki is the leading returning scorer after posting 26 goals and 20 assists last season. Senior forwards Adam Booth (13 goals, 9 assists) and Matt Kish (7 goals, 11 assists) and junior forward Joel Kunzelman (11 goals, 8 assists) also have returned on offense.

Senior goaltender Ryan Norkin, who went 11-0-0-1 as the backup to 2019 graduate Mark Bishopp, figures to take on that role full time this winter.

The other seniors are forwards Brandon Choung, Alex Erickson and James Gray and backup goalie Nikolas Wagner.

Junior forwards Anthony DiPaolo and Evan Halligan also return.

Others looking to contribute include junior forwards Landon Hale and Jack Ryan and sophomore forward Colin Norkin.

Jerome lost 10 players from a year ago to graduation, including Ryan Jenkins (4 goals, 21 assists), Nick Augenstein (32 goals, 36 assists), Trent Belli (25 goals, 50 assists), Dalton Miller (32 goals, 26 assists) and J.P. Weaver (39 goals, 28 assists).

"We've got a bunch of kids that can really skate and a bunch of kids with a sour taste in their mouths from last year," 16th-year coach Pat Murphy said. "Obviously, we've got something to prove going into this year, so we'll see how it goes. We've got 39 kids playing hockey, so we're happy about that."

Girls basketball team has veteran look

With four seniors and a key junior returnee from the team that improved by two wins last winter, the girls basketball team is feeling optimistic as it begins this season.

Jerome, which opened Nov. 22 at home against Jonathan Alder and played host to Hilliard Davidson on Nov. 26, finished 10-13 overall and 7-7 in the OCC-Cardinal last season.

The Celtics begin league action Tuesday, Dec. 3, at home against Scioto.

"We've got four seniors back," fourth-year coach Natalie Herring said. "They've been with us since they were freshmen and all four have been playing varsity really since they were sophomores, so this is probably the most varsity experience that we've had within our program."

The top returnees are 5-foot-6 senior guard Jamie Cline, who averaged 10.5 points and was second-team all-league, and 5-10 junior forward Amaris Lowery, who averaged 7.8 points and was honorable mention all-league.

The other seniors are Alie Intihar (6-0, post player), Kendall Sestili (5-10, guard/wing player) and Brittany Sanders (5-9, guard/wing player), each of whom averaged between three and five points.

Junior Meredith Wheeler (5-9, forward) and sophomores Cari Dupote-Fosnot (5-7, guard) and Paige Wleklinski (6-0, post player) are others who should fill key roles.

Juniors Sammy Bowers, Ali Ford, Megan Keys and Cate Williams all are 5-5 guards who could split time between junior varsity and varsity.

According to Herring, Cline and Lowery both shot better than 40 percent from the floor and about 36 percent from 3-point range last season.

"I'm a big believer in defense, so that's where we think our energy, tenacity and toughness begin," Herring said. "If we can get things going defensively, we feel like the offense will come over time. It's hard to catch up if you go down early, especially in Division I. We'll start with the toughest defenders on the floor and hopefully get some deflections, steals, get some easy transition points and when we do, possess the ball, play disciplined and take good shots."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for the Jerome boys basketball, girls basketball, hockey and swimming & diving teams:

BOYS BASKETBALL

Nov. 29 -- At Newark

Dec. 4 -- Home vs. London

GIRLS BASKETBALL

*Dec. 3 -- Home vs. Scioto

HOCKEY

Nov. 29 -- Arlington (Va.) O'Connell in Chiller Thanksgiving Classic at Chiller North

Nov. 30 -- New Albany and Northern Kentucky club team in Chiller Thanksgiving Classic at Chiller North

Dec. 1 -- TBD in Chiller Thanksgiving Classic at Chiller North

SWIMMING & DIVING

Nov. 29 -- Olentangy at Dublin Recreation Center

*League contest