Jalen Sullinger has one goal in mind for the Thomas Worthington boys basketball team this season.
"Every high school team has the same goal ... win," the 5-foot-10 junior guard said. "So we just want to play every game like it's our last game and win as many games as we can."
The Cardinals, who opened Nov. 30 with an 82-76 win over Cleveland St. Ignatius in the All-Ohio High School Hoops Showcase at Gahanna, are coming off a season in which they finished 17-8 overall and 8-6 in the OCC-Cardinal Division and reached a Division I district final before losing to Pickerington North 72-60.
"We've just got to stay humble," said Sullinger, who had 28 points against St. Ignatius and was one of five players to score in double figures. "A lot of people think we can do the things that we want to do. We can't really feed into the hype. We've just got to stay grounded and stay level and keep our heads."
The Cardinals expect to be led by their juniors. Joining Sullinger in the junior class are 6-5 guard Isaac Settles and 6-4 guard Maurice Collins as well as two move-ins in 6-7 forward Tyrese Hughey and 6-2 forward Omari Effiong. Hughey is a transfer from Licking Heights and Effiong transferred from Pickerington North.
Last season, Sullinger averaged 17.1 points and 3.4 assists and Settles averaged 13.4 points, 2.2 assists and a team-high 1.2 steals. Both were named second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
The Cardinals lost their third-leading scorer from a year ago to graduation in Ben Wight, who averaged 13.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. Wight now plays for William & Mary.
"We have a really top-level junior group," said sixth-year coach Sean Luzader, whose team opens league play Friday, Dec. 6, at home against defending champion Hilliard Bradley.
Seniors Landon Ward (6-2, forward) and Zach Mansaray (5-8, guard) are other returnees.
"I would argue that we have some of the best skill and athleticism that we've had in the last two to three decades here," Luzader said. "That doesn't mean that you find success and that doesn't mean that you win all of your games, but it's a good start.
"Our challenge is getting everybody to play together and everybody to play tough and getting everybody to do the small things. The cliche stuff like defense wins and playing unselfish ... those are going to be the things that matter for us because if we do that, we have a chance to be really good."
Joey Zalewski, a 6-2 freshman forward, also should make an impact.
"He played with our varsity group all summer and was probably our most aggressive player and best rebounder," Luzader said of Zalewski. "There are big things ahead for him."
Rounding out the team are seniors Michael Amoah (6-6, center), Jeff Beck (6-0, guard), Korey Robinson (6-0, guard) and Jacob Sincire (6-4, center), junior Nick Moore (5-10, guard) and sophomores Cam Beatty (6-0, guard) and Mike Sekyere (5-10, guard).
"I want to make my teammates better, make them look as good as they can," Sullinger said. "I've got a lot of little jobs in a game. I'm like the coach on the floor, so I've got to make sure I'm on my 'A' game every game for my coaches and my teammates. My goal is to make everybody better."
Bowling teams return solid base
The girls bowling team returns five bowlers from last season, when it went 8-6 overall and finished fourth in the COHSBC-B at 7-3 behind champion Gahanna (11-0) and third in the OCC-Cardinal at 3-3 behind champion Bradley (7-0).
"We've got some pretty experienced girls that did fairly well last year and I expect them to do even better this year," said Joe Taylor, who is in his fourth season as coach of the girls team and ninth season as coach of the boys squad. "The team chemistry seems to be really good this year for the girls. They seem to be working really well together and helping each other. I would expect them to be very competitive this year."
Seniors McKenzie Barritt, Ruby Matthews-Napper and Samantha Haunty and juniors Hannah Innes and Paige Stephens all return off last year's squad, which finished 16th in the Division I district tournament.
"Their strength is their experience," Taylor said. "They've been with me two to three years each. They're all strong players and they know what's expected. They know how to play the game and they don't let the moment get too big for them. They don't panic when times are tough."
Innes was the Cardinals' top performer at district with a 461 three-game series.
Last season, Innes averaged 149.2 pins in 29 games, Stephens averaged 144.0 in 30 games, Matthews-Napper averaged 130.4 in 27 games, Barritt averaged 127.5 in 26 games and Haunty averaged 132.5 in six games.
The boys team returns just two bowlers from last season, when it went 0-14 overall, 0-10 in the COHSBC-B and 0-6 in the OCC-Cardinal.
"Our expectations are just to get better," Taylor said. "Right now, we have two very good players (in) our two seniors, Taven (Holcomb-Green) and Nate (Johnson), but we have five players who haven't bowled before."
Johnson came within three pins of qualifying for state last season as the Cardinals' only district representative. He averaged 194.2 in 31 games a year ago.
"Nate has always been solid," Taylor said. "He was good when he started and he has done nothing but get better. He's one of the guys that I would term a bowling alley-rat, because he's the first one in and the last one out and he always wants to learn more."
Holcomb-Green averaged 172.2 in 29 games last season.
"He needs to learn a little more about control and targeting, but he really has a great shot," Taylor said. "When he hits his target, he just destroys pins."
Sophomores Zach Campbell and Nolan King and freshmen Brian He, Nidin Nair and Jesse Turner round out the team.
"We are fighting through the learning curve with how bowling actually works with the new kids," Taylor said. "We will work on getting better and fighting through the tough times at the start of the season."
Below are the coming schedules for the Thomas boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, gymnastics, hockey, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Dec. 6 -- Home vs. Hilliard Bradley
*Dec. 10 -- At Dublin Jerome
*Dec. 6 -- At Bradley
*Dec. 10 -- Home vs. Jerome
*Dec. 6 -- Pickerington Central at Capri Lanes
*Dec 11 -- Reynoldsburg at Capri Lanes
Dec. 10 -- Home vs. Buckeye Valley, *Delaware and DeSales
Dec. 8 -- Springboro at Chiller North
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 5 -- Home vs. Kilbourne, Westerville Central, Westerville North and Westerville South
Dec. 7 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto and Kilbourne
Dec. 10 -- Home vs. Bloom-Carroll, Kilbourne and Olentangy Berlin
*Dec. 5 -- Home vs. Jerome
Dec. 7 -- Tony Pizzurro Memorial Tournament at DeSales
Dec. 11 -- At Columbus Academy with St. Charles