Girls Basketball: Pickerington Central aims for another deep postseason run
Pickerington Central girls basketball players Jocelyn Tate and Skye Williams admitted they might have to wait until the Tigers had played a few games to figure out why they have such a special feeling about this season’s team.
“It’s so different. The vibe is just different,” said Williams, a 5-foot-10 senior guard and Purdue recruit. “The chemistry is as good as it’s ever been. The seniors this year, we’re being very encouraging toward the younger girls. I think that will make all the difference this year.”
Tate, a 5-11 senior guard/forward who has signed with Bowling Green, also tried to put her finger on exactly why she is so optimistic that the Tigers can challenge for a third Division I regional championship in four years.
“We were good as a team last year but there’s something about this group that’s very special to me,” Tate said. “I think we’re closer and that will help us win.”
Tate and Williams are among four returning players who started or saw considerable varsity time — sophomores Olivia Cooper (6-1, forward) and Madison Greene (5-7, guard) are the others — from a team that went 22-6 overall and 9-1 in the OCC-Ohio Division, losing 70-54 to Newark in a regional final.
Central has a roster featuring more guards than in seasons past, but eighth-year coach Johnathan Hedgepeth said positions could be fluid thanks to increased versatility.
“We have more guards and wings, so I think that will allow us to mix up our offenses a little bit better (and) switch on defense because we have similar players,” Hedgepeth said. “We can do a lot on the perimeter and then slash and drive to the rim.”
Greene started for most of her freshman season partly because of injuries to Williams and Aarionna Redman, who now plays at Marshall.
“We’re trying to groom her to be the next great point guard here,” Hedgepeth said. “She can take her skill set and become not just a scorer but a facilitator.”
Rounding out the roster are seniors Malea Bess (5-7, guard) and Azariah Binford (5-5, guard), juniors Jada Easler (5-10, forward), Kyah Ewing (5-5, guard), Tristen Keuchler (5-11, forward), Allyson Netter (5-6, guard) and Brooklyn Wallace (6-2, center/forward), sophomores Aria Cooke (5-8, guard) and Taylor Kelly (5-6, guard) and freshman Berry Wallace (6-2, forward).
Binford is a transfer from Northland. Cooke and Keuchler are out for the season because of injuries.
Because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, games have been suspended through Dec. 17.
Despite losing some summer work because of pandemic-related shutdowns, third-year North coach Silas Williams expects his team to make up for lost time quickly given how many players return.
As a result, he has set a lofty goal coming off a season in which the Panthers went 2-21 overall and 0-10 in the OCC-Ohio.
“We should double or triple our number of wins from last year just because of being acclimated (to the system), them being more mature and the girls understanding what we want to do. I hope we get into double-figure (wins),” Williams said. “This is largely the same group. Sometimes in that case, the chemistry just comes back quicker.”
Seniors Alsaysha Grant (5-8, guard), Jada Moultair (6-0, forward/center) and Drew Ultican (6-0, forward) and junior Adi Dorman (5-8, guard) return, and senior Mayson Bates (6-0, forward) is back after skipping her junior season.
Grant has committed to Wilberforce.
“Jada had a great summer,” Williams said. “She’s moving a lot better than she was last year. Her ball-handling skills are better. She led us in rebounding and scoring so I’m looking for big things from her, and then with the addition of Mayson coming back, we are going to be OK.”
Rounding out the roster are juniors Hannah Jones (5-9, guard), Makenzie King (5-6, guard) and Riley Pennington (5-9, forward), sophomores Taylor Hartman (5-5, guard), Kylie Mizer (5-10, guard), Cate Pickering (5-7, guard) and Sofia Walton (5-7, guard) and freshmen Olivia Moore (5-9, guard) and Nyla Washington (5-9, guard).
•Coach: Johnathan Hedgepeth, eighth season
•Top players: Olivia Cooper, Madison Greene, Jocelyn Tate, Brooklyn Wallace and Skye Williams
•Key losses: Felesia Ondongo, Aarionna Redman and Nicole Stephens
•Last season: 22-6 overall
•2019-20 OCC-Ohio standings: Gahanna and Pickerington Central (both 9-1), Reynoldsburg (6-4), Lancaster (4-6), Grove City (2-8), Pickerington North (0-10)
•2020 postseason: Defeated Westland 70-11; def. Whetstone 90-3; def. Dublin Scioto 48-34; def. Watterson 43-40; def. Reynoldsburg 62-56; lost to Newark 70-54 in Division I regional final
•Coach: Silas Williams, third season
•Top players: Mayson Bates, Adi Dorman, Alsaysha Grant, Jada Moultair and Drew Ultican
•Key losses: None
•Last season: 2-21 overall
•2020 postseason: Lost to Westerville North 50-20 in second round of Division I district tournament