Despite having two of its top players miss time with injuries last season, the Hartley boys basketball team "pieced" things together well enough, as coach Randy Kortokrax put it, to win a Division II district championship.
There are even bigger question marks heading into this season considering the only key contributor to return from last season when the Hawks went 15-10 and lost to Dayton Northridge 60-56 in a regional semifinal is 6-foot-3 senior forward Kylan Kortokrax, the coach's son.
Hartley opened Nov. 30 with a 49-36 loss to Grandview in the All-Ohio High School Hoops Showcase at Pickerington North.
The Hawks originally were scheduled to begin CCL play Friday, Dec. 6, against Ready, but the contest will be moved to a later date, according to coach Kortokrax. Their league opener now is Dec. 13 at DeSales.
"Basically, we lost eight of our top nine players," said coach Kortokrax, who is in his 20th season. "We've got Kylan back and he was just a shooter last year, so we have really no experience and we'll be somewhat light on leadership."
Two players who were expected to be key returnees, senior Colby Rankin and sophomore Javan Simmons, are no longer with the program. Simmons is now playing for Gahanna, while Rankin, who had 18 points in a 63-54 win over Eastmoor Academy in the second round of the district tournament and made the game-winning 3-pointer in a 50-48 victory over DeSales in a district final, also transferred but is not playing this season, according to coach Kortokrax.
Kylan Kortokrax averaged 2.7 points last season, scoring a season-high 13 points in a 57-56 overtime loss to DeSales in CCL play.
The other seniors are Micah Slater (6-0, forward) and Andrew Trainer (5-10, guard).
Junior Will Miller (6-4, forward) is another who saw action last season and is expected to fill a key role.
Also looking to contribute are juniors Braden Blanchard (6-0, guard), Dejon Donnell (5-10, guard), Jay Henson (6-0, guard), Nate Rolwing (6-3, forward), Nico Thomas (6-2, forward) and Jack Tomlinson (6-1, guard) and sophomores Alex Blain (6-0, guard) and Amari Gaston (6-3, forward).
"Things are coming together well," Kylan Kortokrax said. "We do have a lot of new guys in new roles, but we all have confidence since we were able to practice and scrimmage against a great Hartley varsity team last year in practice."
According to coach Kortokrax, Blanchard, Donnell and Thomas should be key players along with Kylan Kortokrax and Miller.
Last season, the Hawks had the district Player of the Year in 2019 graduate Morgan Safford, who averaged 24.8 points. He is now competing for Wofford.
Among the other players lost to graduation were Payton Collins (11.1 points per game), Ryan Heuser (6.5 ppg) and Chase Albanese (3.7 ppg).
Junior forward Elijah English is expected to be out for the season with an injury.
"We've got talent but no experience," coach Kortokrax said. "I don't know if we're real athletic and we don't have a true (No.) 5 man, which is going to hurt us, so we've got some challenges to overcome."
Boys bowlers look for strong season
After going 11-4 overall and finishing fourth in the COHSBC-D Division at 9-2 a year ago, the boys bowling team hopes it is poised for an even better season.
The return of senior Victor Jackson, who placed seventh (619 three-game series) at the Division II district tournament to miss advancing to state by one spot, is among the biggest reasons for second-year coach Chris Blum's optimism.
Another is the improvement of sophomore Marlin Yarborough, who is expected to be a key contributor for Hartley. The Hawks open Friday, Dec. 6, against Africentric at Holiday Lanes.
"Victor Jackson and Marlin Yarborough will be my top bowlers, with a very legitimate opportunity to qualify for states," Blum said.
Others on the team are junior Andrew Grosko and sophomores Ayden Jordan, Sam Shisler, Noah Shultz and Shane Shultz.
"The season has started incredibly smooth so far, but I think that comes from having so many returners who know my expectations and have high expectations for themselves," Blum said. "I believe we can win our conference this year and qualify for districts and possibly the state finals."
Girls bowlers bring back much of lineup
Of the girls bowling team's nine members, six were key contributors last season and all but one gained experience a year ago when the Hawks went 9-4 overall and tied Ready for second in the COHSBC-D at 8-2 behind Watterson (11-0).
Seniors Libby Erwin and Moriah Cason and sophomore Annie Flores, all of whom are returnees, should lead the way.
"The beginning of the season included some challenges due to conflicting schedules and needing to come together as a team, (but) I think (competing for a league title) can be a real possibility," Blum said.
Also looking to contribute are seniors Kayleigh Donovan and SaMarra Pointer, juniors Sunny Abraha, Maria Kelley and Trinity Thompson and sophomore Camille Payne. Kelley is the only newcomer.
The biggest loss to graduation was Tara Bush, who led the Hawks with a 69th-place finish (438) at the Division I sectional, finishing 12 pins behind the final district qualifier.
Boys, girls soccer coaches named
Hartley has hired coaches for its boys and girls soccer teams.
Justin Alexander, a 2012 Hartley graduate, has been named boys coach. He replaces Chris Kowalski, who stepped down after a 12-year tenure during which he guided the Hawks to a Division II district title in 2015 and district runner-up finishes in 2009 and '16.
Jennifer Moore, a 2010 Hartley graduate, has been named girls coach after serving as an assistant the past four seasons. She takes over for Andrew Jahahn, who stepped down after three years as coach but will remain with the program as an assistant on Moore's staff.
The boys team finished 6-10-1 this fall. Hartley went 103-96-18 and reached at least a district semifinal five times during Kowalski's tenure.
"I decided to step down in large part due to wanting to spend more time with my family," Kowalski said.
"My children are at an age where they're getting heavily involved in multiple sports and activities and I'm looking forward to not only attending more of their events, but also coaching them as well.
"I'm so proud of coach Alexander. I had the unique opportunity to both coach and coach with Justin. I'm looking forward to continuing to help him grow the program and make it one of the best in the state. I'm also really excited to continue to watch our current players work hard to become the best versions of themselves."
The girls team finished 5-7-4 this fall.
Moore was a defender in 2007 when the Hawks reached a district final for the first time in program history under former coach Keith Scarlett.
Below are the coming schedules for the Hartley boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling and swimming & diving teams:
Dec. 7 -- Home vs. Mansfield St. Peter's
Dec. 10 -- At Granville
Dec. 7 -- Home vs. Dayton Ponitz
Dec. 11 -- At Olentangy Berlin
*Dec. 6 -- Africentric at Holiday Lanes
*Dec. 11 -- Watterson at Holiday Lanes
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 6 -- Olentangy Liberty diving invitational at Ohio State