With four sophomores serving in key roles last season, the Delaware Hayes girls basketball team knew it entered many of its games at a disadvantage in terms of experience.
That won't be the case this season.
The Pacers have 10 returnees, including four seniors and five juniors, from last season, when they finished 11-12 overall, which represented a three-win improvement over the 2017-18 season.
Delaware opened Nov. 22 with a 76-31 win over Central Crossing and defeated Licking Heights 60-47 on Nov. 23 before facing Olentangy on Nov. 29. The Pacers begin OCC-Cardinal Division action Tuesday, Dec. 3, at Olentangy Berlin.
Delaware went 3-11 in the league last season.
"We've told the girls that we're no longer the young kids on the block," third-year coach Lou Tiberi said. "We're an experienced team with a lot of varsity games under our belts and we're hoping to make a step up, especially in our conference. We've continued to struggle in the league, but we're hoping to continue to get better in conference this year. A lot of it is psychological. We were down for so long that it's taken a while to be competitive in the conference."
The Pacers should be led offensively by 5-foot-8 senior guard Katie Smith, 5-10 junior guard Alexis Amabile and 5-10 sophomore guard Chloe Jeffers.
Amabile, who scored 30 points in a 63-52 victory over Olentangy last season, missed several games a year ago because of injury but averaged 14.3 points and was named honorable mention all-league and all-district. Jeffers was special mention all-league and had a team-high 10 points in the Pacers' 72-36 loss to Olentangy Liberty in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
Jordan Lantz, a 6-4 junior post player, averaged more than eight rebounds last season.
The other returnees are seniors Nadine Hassan (5-5, guard), Abby Stephens (5-7, forward) and Kayla Thompson (5-2, guard) and juniors Alyssa Griner (6-0, forward), Telijah McCollum (5-8, forward) and Karli Theis (5-2, guard).
Also on the team are sophomores Sophia Midura (6-0, forward) and Sophia Nice (5-8, guard).
"We made some strides last year, but we were still very young," Tiberi said. "We only had one senior last year, so we've got the bulk of the team returning. We've also upgraded our non-conference schedule. My first year, we were the 43rd seed (for the district tournament) and last year we moved up to 29th, so this year our goal is to at least move up into the top 20. The only team we really weren't competitive with was (Dublin) Scioto, but there's really not a night off in our division."
Boys basketball team out to take next step
Following three consecutive losing seasons, the boys basketball team broke through a year ago to finish 17-7 overall.
The Pacers believe last year is more indicative of where the program should be as they begin their first season under coach Adam Vincenzo, who was an assistant the past three seasons under former coach Jordan Blackburn.
Blackburn, who stepped down in August, compiled a 142-88 record in 10 seasons with the Pacers.
"We've been close and we feel like we have the talent to make a run in the league and have a good run in the (Division I district) tournament," Vincenzo said. "I know our seniors are very hungry to improve on what we did in the past. We won 17 games last year. Most programs would kill for that, but we felt like we haven't really had a good run in the tournament. Our goals are to try and take that next step and see how far we can go with it. It's a grind, not only in league play, but at tournament time. The depth in central Ohio is what makes our district very unique and fun to play in."
The Pacers, who lost to Olentangy Orange 66-59 in the second round of the district tournament last season, opened Nov. 29 against Buckeye Valley and will play Tuesday, Dec. 3, at Orange before opening OCC-Cardinal action Friday, Dec. 6, at home against Hilliard Darby.
Back to lead the way are seniors Paul Burris (6-6, forward), Nate Griggs (6-0, guard) and Addison Harvey (6-0, guard) and junior Ryan Smudz (5-9, guard).
Last season, Griggs averaged 15.2 points, 4.1 assists and 5.4 rebounds and was first-team all-league as the Pacers went 9-5 to finish third behind Hilliard Bradley (14-0) and Dublin Jerome (11-3).
Burris averaged 10.7 points and 5.3 rebounds and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district, Harvey averaged 7.5 points and 4.4 assists and was honorable mention all-district and all-league and Smudz averaged four points and 2.6 assists.
Nabil Abdus-salaam (6-4, forward), Raj Ishwar (6-4, forward) and Sihr Sumner (6-0, guard) are other seniors.
Junior Drew Williams (6-2, guard) and sophomores Jacob Enke (6-5, forward), Jayson Enke (6-6, forward), C.J. Holmes (5-8, guard) and Ryan Polter (6-2, forward) are others looking to contribute.
Williams did not play last season but did as a freshman.
The biggest loss to graduation from last season was Terin Kinsway, who averaged 15.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and was first-team all-league and third-team all-district. Kinsway, who ranks third on the program's career scoring list with 1,195 points, is now playing for Indiana Tech.
"It's coming along," Vincenzo said. "There have been a little bit of growing pains, but we're getting there. I know it's kind of a cliche, but we're coming along and we're really just focusing on getting better each day and want to let everything fall into place."
Below are the coming schedules for the Delaware Hayes boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
Dec. 3 -- At Olentangy Orange
*Dec. 6 -- Home vs. Hilliard Darby
*Dec. 3 -- At Olentangy Berlin
*Dec. 6 -- At Darby
*Dec. 3 -- Big Walnut at Capri Lanes
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 2 -- Whetstone at Columbus Aquatics Center
Dec. 6 -- Olentangy Liberty diving invitational at Ohio State
Dec. 7 -- At Columbus Academy
Dec. 6 -- At Marysville