The Groveport Madison girls basketball team didn’t take as big a step forward last season as coach Eugene Love would have liked, as the Cruisers went 5-18 overall on the heels of a 4-19 finish in Love’s first season two years ago.

Now that the majority of his players have been in the system exclusively under his watch, Love expects a bigger improvement in his third season, which began Nov. 26 at Westerville Central.

“The younger kids are buying in. The improvement of the starters that we have coming back, plus a freshman who is coming in that we think can help, makes us pretty optimistic,” Love said. “Our (junior varsity) team did fairly well last year. They won 10 ballgames, which is the most they’ve won in 20 years. We are looking like we’re turning the corner, hopefully.

“From where we started two years ago, we were a little disappointed that we didn’t turn more of a corner last year with the varsity. We didn’t have the success we thought we would have varsity-wise last year.”

Juniors Casey Humphrey (5-foot-3, point guard) and Sha’Ron Whatley (6-2, center) are returning starters, and sophomore Alauna Nguyen (5-6, guard) was expected to earn a starting spot after coming off the bench last year.

Humphrey averaged a team-high 11 points a year ago in her first season with the program after transferring from Westerville South.

“Sha’Ron had a good AAU season. She is doing much better finishing around the basket,” Love said. “Casey was our (team) MVP last year so we still expect the same thing out of her. Alauna’s game has improved. She has gotten more confident.”

Other returnees include senior Kiarra Chambers (5-8, guard) and junior Sey Ba (5-11, forward).

“We will be better. I like how we’ve looked. We’re communicating better and scoring more,” Whatley said. “I see my role as being more of a captain this year. Last year, I was just going with the flow.”

Love hopes to implement the type of transition offense this season that he has wanted to install since taking over the program.

“We just weren’t able to execute exactly what we wanted to do last year. I love to get up and down the floor, but it’s structured and controlled. It’s not just run-and-gun,” Love said. “I like to apply pressure, but we have to have kids who are going to buy in to that and do the things necessary to apply pressure. This year, we’ve seen a different style of play from ourselves. I think we’re going to get up and down the floor a little better this year. We’ll have to play multiple defenses to keep (opposing teams) on their toes.”

Rounding out the roster are seniors Ariez Clay (5-7, guard) and Jakayla Matthews (5-3, guard), juniors Monique Davis (6-0, forward) and Amara Towns (5-5, guard) and freshman Tracy Taylor (6-0, forward).

Groveport begins OCC-Capital Division play Tuesday, Dec. 3, at Big Walnut. The Cruisers went 2-8 in the league last season to finish fifth behind three-time defending league champion Newark (10-0).

Both of Groveport’s OCC-Capital wins came against Franklin Heights.

“We’re just trying to push ourselves to be better than we’ve been. We don’t have a certain amount of wins (we’re aiming for),” Nguyen said. “We just want to win.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for the Groveport Madison boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling and swimming & diving teams:

BOYS BASKETBALL

Dec. 3 – Home vs. St. Charles

GIRLS BASKETBALL

*Dec. 3 – At Big Walnut

BOWLING

*Dec. 2 – Hilliard Bradley at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl

SWIMMING & DIVING

Nov. 30 – Scottie Sprints at Muskingum Recreation Center

*League contest