First-year Westland girls basketball coach Nina Napolitano is looking for her team to continue the progress it made last winter.
Napolitano replaced Matt Jaynes, who coached the team for three seasons. The Cougars went 5-18 in each of the past two seasons after going 1-22 in Jaynes' first season.
"I talked to a lot of the upperclassmen and some of the juniors that are returners to see what they had last year, what they liked last year, what they didn't like and what we want to change," Napolitano said. "We talked about what kind of culture you want to bring to the team. It's been a big push. ... They're all willing to learn, willing to grow."
Westland got out to a good start, defeating Northside Christian 38-21 on Nov. 22 as 5-foot-8 junior guard Alexxus Phifer led the way with 14 points. Phifer is one of the returnees expected to set the tone for the Cougars.
"A lot of the offense will go through Alexxus," Napolitano said.
Another returnee, 6-2 sophomore center Hayden Kershaw, added eight points in the opener.
Westland lost at Centennial 50-29 on Nov. 26 and opens OCC-Central Division play Tuesday, Dec. 3, at home against Central Crossing.
Last season, the Cougars went 0-10 in the league to finish sixth behind champion Dublin Coffman (10-0).
Westland has lost 43 consecutive league games since beating Central Crossing 37-35 on Nov. 27, 2015.
"It's a pretty good league," said Napolitano, who is a former basketball referee in the area. "I've officiated in the OCC, so I'm familiar with it. I have a better understanding of the game and it helps me explain it to them."
Also back is 5-2 senior guard Bailey Garner, who is expected to provide leadership.
"I love (being a leader)," she said. "I feel I'm the mom of the team and I can be there for other girls and teach them and be the one they look up to."
Kershaw and her sister, junior Hannah Kershaw (6-2, forward/center), should provide an inside presence.
"They have good height and they're willing to work," Napolitano said. "A lot of the offense will also go through them."
Senior Danielle Fout (5-7, guard/forward) also returns. Other players are senior Christine Johnson (5-8, center), junior Da-Miya Alderson (5-7, forward) and sophomores Taylor Bronson (5-2, guard/forward) and Brianna Woods (5-7, forward).
"We set a goal each game," Napolitano said. "Our biggest one right now that we're trying to reach is communication. We're still working on our communication (on) defense (and) offense, on the court (and) off the court. Our biggest thing is understanding how to communicate with one another, our teammates, coaches (and) officials."
A key graduation loss was forward Atira Hoard, who was named second-team all-league last season. Guard Shukri Abdikadir, another graduate, was honorable mention all-league.
Napolitano, 25, is a 2012 graduate of Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit, where she played basketball for four years. She went on to play four seasons at Capital, from which she graduated in 2016.
She is a first-year science teacher at Westland and also coaches at the AAU level for Ohio Sports Plus in Dublin.
"I love the job coach is doing," Garner said. "I was kind of nervous about new coaches, but it's great for the girls and it's great for the team."
Below are the coming schedules for the Westland boys basketball, girls basketball, gymnastics, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Dec. 6 -- Home vs. Marysville
*Dec. 3 -- Home vs. Central Crossing
*Dec. 6 -- At Marysville
Dec. 4 -- At Hilliard Darby with Central Crossing, *Franklin Heights, Grove City, Hilliard Bradley and *Hilliard Davidson
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 2 -- Central Crossing, DeSales, Grandview, Hamilton Township and Whetstone at Columbus Aquatics Center
Dec. 7 -- Bad Apple Brawl at Mount Vernon