If there's one constant within the Hilliard Darby boys basketball team this season, it's change.
Last season, the Panthers finished 6-17 overall and 3-11 in the OCC-Cardinal Division and lost in the first round of the Division I district tournament.
Darby returns six players, but not a lot of scoring off of last year's squad. Mekhi Evans, a 5-foot-11 junior guard, is the team's top returning scorer after averaging 5.7 points a year ago.
The Panthers opened Dec. 3 against Marysville and begin OCC-Cardinal play Friday, Dec. 6, at Delaware.
"We definitely have a lot of new people on the team and not a lot of varsity experience," 6-1 senior guard Nick Skelskey said. "Everyone's kind of embraced it. It's a next-man-up mentality. We've been competing for playing time and everyone wants a piece, so it's been pretty competitive."
Among the key players Darby lost from last season were its leading scorer and rebounder, Andrew Patrick (11.8 points, 4.3 rebounds), and 2019 graduate Kyle Miller (9.6 points, 4.1 rebounds).
Patrick, who did not return for his junior season, was named honorable mention all-district and second-team all-league a year ago and Miller was honorable mention all-league.
"For the first time in my six years, I feel like we've got really good depth, especially at the guard spot," coach Chris Maul said. "We've got eight guards that we feel like we can plug in and have no drop. We've got four or five guys that can run the point and we've got four or five guys that can play the three. We really have depth there."
Skelskey and senior Parker Hambel (5-11) join Evans in the backcourt and senior Jacob Foster (6-2) is one of two forwards on the team. Sophomore guards Blake Horvath (6-1) and Matt Sech (6-0) round out the returnees.
Senior Josh Carney (6-2) also will be in the guard rotation along with sophomore Gio Roberts (6-2) and freshman Javi Quimba (5-8), while freshman Cam Gilkerson (6-2) will see action at forward.
"I think everyone has something that they can offer to the team," Skelskey said. "We just want to be closer as a team and just want to play for each other."
Maul has made adjustments to the offense and defense.
"In the past two years, we've switched most defensive actions," Maul said. "We felt like it really fit our personnel a couple of years ago and last year we stuck with it. This year, we're going back to a straight-up man-to-man defense with not a lot of switching."
Being guard-heavy, Maul has changed to a Princeton offense after running a motion offense in the past.
"We've had a facelift to our offense," Foster said. "I'm really enjoying it. I think it's a lot more productive than our five-out motion offense that we had in the past. I think we get better shots and better looks and it's better for our personnel."
Bowling program gains varsity status
The biggest difference going from club status to a varsity sport for the bowling program is not the schedule or even letters for varsity jackets, as members of the boys and girls teams already received that recognition.
Nope, it's busing.
"I think that's the biggest thing and it's always been a concern of mine because I'm looking out for my athletes," second-year coach Jill Logan said. "When my athletes had to drive themselves to matches, it always worried me.
"So, being able to be on the bus and be together and have that camaraderie that other sports get ... I think that'll build better team-bonding time. We still bowl the same teams that we did last year, we're still in the same league. ... The weird change is that we'll have busing."
The boys team returns three bowlers from last season, when it went 8-5 overall, 7-3 in the COHSBC-B and 3-3 in the OCC-Cardinal and placed seventh in the Division I district tournament.
Darby lost its top bowler from a year ago in 2019 graduate Nicholas Carter, who rolled a 614 three-game series at district to finish 14th of 106 bowlers.
"We've got a lot of strong, potential bowlers here," Logan said. "We lost quite a few last year, but I think the ones we've got coming out this year are going to step up and fill (those) shoes. From what I'm seeing in practice, they're ready to step up."
Seniors Michael Beard, Josh Larsen and David Maleh are the top returnees.
Last season, Larson averaged 195.8 pins in 28 games, Maleh averaged 190.1 in 17 games and Beard averaged 167.5 in 14 games.
"Josh Larson has a lot of potential," Logan said. "He's a great leader and I think he'll do some amazing things for us. Michael Beard and David Maleh have really come on strong, even at the end of last year. They've really shown some improvement."
Senior Marcus Hunter and juniors Zach Brandewie and Will Mifsud round out the roster.
Last season, Hunter averaged 157.3 in four games and Brandewie averaged 154 in four games.
The girls team must replace its top bowler from a year ago in 2019 graduate Emily Betteridge, who finished 53rd (481) of 104 bowlers at district last season as the Panthers' lone representative.
Darby finished 5-9 overall, 4-6 in the COHSBC-B and 1-5 in the OCC-Cardinal a year ago.
"We struggled a little bit last year," Logan said. "We're building a new program. We're young again this year. We have two seniors, but they weren't with us last year, so I still consider us to be a young team. But with what I'm seeing in practice, I think we'll be able to hold our own a little bit more than we did last year."
Juniors Sarah Leming, Jayde Martin and Lyndsey Seagraves and sophomore Emily Decker are the top returnees.
Last season, Seagraves averaged 141.9 in 23 games, Martin averaged 125.9 in 27 games and Leming 124 in 26 games.
Seniors Audrey Finfrock and Naveah Mosley and freshmen MiKayla Beard and Riley Skaggs round out the roster.
Below are the coming schedules for the Darby boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, gymnastics, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Dec. 6 -- At Delaware
Dec. 7 -- Home vs. Groveport
*Dec. 10 -- Home vs. Worthington Kilbourne
*Dec. 6 -- Home vs. Delaware
Dec. 7 -- Home vs Groveport
*Dec. 10 -- At Kilbourne
*Dec. 6 -- Whitehall at Holiday Lanes
*Dec. 11 -- Groveport at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl
Dec. 11 -- At Dublin Coffman with Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Davidson and Olentangy Orange
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 6 -- Olentangy Liberty diving invitational at Ohio State
Dec. 7 -- Westerville South at Hilliard YMCA
Dec. 5 -- At Mount Vernon