At the beginning of practice Dec. 2, Westland boys basketball coach Rob Hayes huddled with his players to reflect on the team's season-opening 60-43 loss at New Albany on Nov. 30.
Hayes, who is in his third season, was not pleased with his team's effort, and he made sure to relay that message.
With several key players back, Hayes has high hopes for the season and expects to see vast improvement. Last winter, the Cougars finished 4-19 overall and 0-10 in the OCC-Central Division.
"I wasn't happy at all," Hayes said of the opener. "I'm disappointed. There are signs of improvement. They're trying to do what we ask of them, but we have some kids that need to understand that they're in primary roles. ... We have enough talent this year to play much better than we did. The outcome was disappointing."
Westland opened league play Dec. 6 against Marysville. It entered the game looking to snap a 29-game league losing streak, with its last win being an 89-83 victory over Marysville on Dec. 9, 2016.
"(Dublin) Coffman and Upper Arlington are at the top (of the league) until someone knocks them off," Hayes said. "(Hilliard) Davidson had a great run last year. They had a great group of seniors."
Against New Albany, Rece Evans and Kalil Camara led the Cougars with nine points apiece. Both are key returnees.
Camara, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, averaged 12.5 points and three rebounds in 11 games last season before missing the second half of the season because of Ohio High School Athletic Association transfer rules. He was a move-in from Philadelphia.
Evans, a 6-2 senior forward, averaged 6.7 points and 4.7 rebounds.
"We definitely have potential," he said. "We have a lot of talent (and) a lot of skilled guys. We just have to play together and as a team and we'll be good."
Hunter Corwin, a 6-2 senior guard and returnee, said the Cougars "definitely didn't play our best" in the opener.
"There were times where we didn't pass the ball around as much as we would have liked to," he said. "Even though we didn't score as much as in past years, our defense is much better."
Another returnee, 6-8 senior forward Eric Panning, should give the Cougars an inside presence. He averaged 8.8 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds last season.
"We need to work harder at getting Panning involved earlier," Hayes said. "He's being looked at by several small (colleges) and he's under-recruited right now based on skill and potential, and he needs to make his game match up. He needs to be greedier. He's learning a ton."
Also back is 6-4 sophomore guard Sohn McGee. Other players are seniors Kenan Lay (6-0, guard) and Miguel Webb (6-2, forward), juniors Derrick Bogay (6-1, guard/forward), Michael Dingess (5-11, guard) and Zurion Ivory (6-0, guard/forward) and sophomore Drew Panning (6-4, guard/forward).
"We need everyone to match up their aggressiveness because the way we want to play, we want to create an advantage and then whoever has the ball when that advantage is created is supposed to be in an attacking mindset," Hayes said.
A key loss to graduation was guard/forward DeShawn Evans, who averaged a team-high 14.6 points along with 4.6 rebounds last season. He was named honorable mention all-district and all-league and now is playing football at Notre Dame College.
Girls swimming team's roster grows to 11
The girls swimming and diving team has 11 athletes on its roster, exciting fifth-year coach Robert Boggs.
"We had a great turnout this year," said Boggs, who also guides the Central Crossing program. "We have almost double of what we had last year. That's always great. We've been trying to build the program at Westland and every year we add a couple more. It seems like the word is getting out a little bit more."
This is the fifth season for the Westland program.
The Cougars opened by competing in the Hilliard Invitational on Nov. 30 at the Hilliard YMCA. They finished fifth (17) of five teams behind Davidson (84), Hilliard Bradley (48), Grove City (40) and Central Crossing (35).
Westland returns senior Rachael Binion, juniors Brenna Gilliam and Peyton Madden and sophomore Caramela Louden.
"Rachael has been a great leader," Boggs said. "She's the team captain. She's a four-year swimmer for us. She's just so talented. She's such a great athlete and very coachable."
Binion will specialize in the butterfly, Madden will specialize in the breaststroke and Louden will specialize in the backstroke.
Freshman Joy Pulhman should compete in all four strokes, according to Boggs.
Other swimmers are junior Elizabeth Green, sophomore Mataya Forster and freshmen Kaylee Mullins, Valeria Vidal Jimenez, Kaylee Walker and Julie Zeilman.
"The new kids are working through that nervous stage, but our four returning swimmers have (been swimming) really well," Boggs said.
The boys team again will have just one swimmer, as freshman Zach Iles has joined the program.
"Unfortunately, we only had one boy come out," Boggs said. "We still have to work on that. Zach comes in brand new. We're just going to have to develop him."
Tim Wotring, a 2019 graduate, was the only boy in the program the previous two seasons.
Below are the coming schedules for the Westland boys basketball, girls basketball, gymnastics, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
Dec. 10 -- At Pickerington North
*Dec. 13 -- At Dublin Coffman
Dec. 10 -- Home vs. North
*Dec. 13 -- Home vs. Coffman
Dec. 11 -- At Worthington Kilbourne with Central Crossing, Franklin Heights and *Upper Arlington
SWIMMING & DIVING
Dec. 10 -- Central Crossing, Dublin Scioto and Marysville at Urbancrest YMCA
Dec. 11 -- At Westerville Central with Big Walnut and Westerville South
Dec. 13-14 -- Olentangy Liberty Classic