Hilliard Darby boys basketball coach Chris Maul is happy to have Nick Skelskey and Blake Horvath back in his lineup.
The 6-foot-1 senior guards were sidelined for multiple games in December because of injury.
The Panthers lost Skelskey to a concussion during a 58-49 loss to Groveport on Dec. 7 and Horvath aggravated a back injury during a 36-25 loss to Dublin Scioto on Dec. 13. Skelskey was out for five games and Horvath missed three contests.
Both players returned in a 43-41 win over Dublin Jerome on Jan. 3.
Maul said the team sorely missed Skelskey and Horvath's defensive presence during their absence.
"They're probably two of our best communicators on the floor," Maul said. "They are 100 percent system guys. They know our system inside and out on the defensive end. We went with the guys we had and we had confidence and faith in those guys. ... It's just that if you miss two of your starters; it just really took us for a big hit there in the middle stretch of December.
"Not having those two was really a big issue. We're happy to get those guys back."
The Panthers were 4-7 overall before playing Watkins Memorial on Jan. 14 and are 4-3 in the OCC-Cardinal Division. Entering Jan. 14, they were 1-2 since Skelskey and Horvath returned, with one of the losses coming against Bradley, which is 11-1 overall and 7-0 in the OCC-Cardinal.
Even though Darby lost to the Jaguars 59-49 on Jan. 10, both Skelskey and Horvath believe the Panthers are on the upswing.
"As a team, we're finally starting to jell," Skelskey said. "We started moving the ball a little better and people are not being selfish. Our defense, we're making sure we're doing the right thing. Coach is giving us the game plan (and) we're just making sure we're executing."
"I think we've really grown as a team this year," Horvath said. "(The last) couple of seasons, we just haven't been as close as we are this year. And I think we can just keep making that team chemistry better and just (keep) going from here. We're a young team, and I think it's just (about) improving from here."
Maul believes the Panthers have improved defensively over the past several games.
"I think out of the last eight quarters we've played, six of them have been really good on the defensive end," he said. "I thought we guarded the other teams' best players well and their best actions well. The things that we're watching in film and talking with our guys about and that we drill in practice, I feel like we're seeing some carryover, which is always great. And to add to that, we finally have all of our personnel back, free from injury, so that's been a big lift for us as well."
Maul said he also likes what he sees from the team's offensive execution even though at times it hasn't transitioned into points.
"I think the thing we're most pleased about is the quality of shots that we're getting," he said. "We struggled in the past with players overdribbling the ball and going one-on-one when it wasn't there. We're happy with the quality of shots, but we're not converting when it's absolutely necessary."
Through 10 games, 5-11 senior guard Parker Hambel was averaging a team-best 7.1 points, followed by 5-11 junior guard Mekhi Evans (7.0). Cam Gilkerson, a 6-2 freshman forward, and 6-2 sophomore guard Gio Roberts were averaging 5.2 and 4.0 rebounds, respectively.
Swimmers prepping for last-season 'push'
The swimming and diving teams had a busy week following the resumption of normal practice times Jan. 6, as they competed in the Worthington Sprint Invitational on Jan. 8, the Delaware Invitational on Jan. 10 and a meet against Davidson on Jan. 11.
"With racing during practice, racing on (Jan. 8), racing on (Jan. 10 and 11), that's racing for five days straight," coach Brian Dickmann said. "As a coach, it's fun to watch kids race every day. The kids might not (have liked) it (last) week, but if they can show themselves they can do it, they'll be set for the push through (the OCC-Cardinal meet Jan. 26), (the Upper Arlington Invitational on Feb. 1) and (the postseason), which is less than a month away."
Among the recent standouts for the girls team has been sophomore diver Kiera Porter, who placed first at the Delaware Invitational.
"She continues to raise the bar even higher as she breaks the (program) record every time she dives," Dickmann said.
Junior Mason Irwin of the boys team won both the 150- and 500-yard freestyle at the Worthington Sprint Invitational, finishing the events in 1 minute, 19.17 seconds and 2:49.75, respectively.
Boys bowlers continue strong play
The boys bowling team was 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the COHS-BC-B entering a match against Dublin Scioto on Jan. 14 and is 3-1 in the OCC-Cardinal.
Last week, the Panthers defeated Bradley (2,326-1,890 on Jan. 6), Pickerington Central (2,314-2,031 on Jan. 8) and Newark (2,264-2,151 on Jan. 9) and lost to Delaware (2,073-2,006 on Jan. 7).
Senior Josh Larsen led the Panthers through seven matches with a 208.6 average, followed by junior Zach Brandewie (201.7), senior Michael Beard (194.0), junior Will Mifsud (190.9) and senior David Maleh (172.4).
The girls team was 0-8 overall and 0-4 in the COHSBC-B before competing against Scioto on Jan. 14 and is 0-4 in the OCC-Cardinal.
Through eight matches, junior Lyndsey Seagraves had a team-best 162.5 average, followed by junior Sarah Leming (153.7) and sophomore Emily Decker (129.3).
Below are the coming schedules for the Darby boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 17 -- Home vs. Delaware. The Panthers defeated the Pacers 49-48 on Dec. 6.
*Jan. 21 -- Home vs. Dublin Scioto. The Panthers lost to the Irish 36-25 on Dec. 13.
*Jan. 17 -- Home vs. Delaware. The Panthers lost to the Pacers 65-36 on Dec. 6.
*Jan. 21 -- Home vs. Scioto. The Panthers lost to the Irish 47-25 on Dec. 13.
*Jan. 21 -- Worthington Kilbourne at Capri Lanes
*Jan. 22 -- Thomas Worthington at Capri Lanes
SWIMMING & DIVING
*Jan. 18 -- Bradley and Davidson at Hilliard YMCA
*Jan. 16 -- Home vs. Scioto
Jan. 17-18 -- Gold Medal Duals at Napoleon