Westland Roundup: Boys basketball squad hopes new mindset yields results

Frank DiRenna
ThisWeek group
Junior guard Sohn McGee (center) is the top returnee for the Westland boys basketball team. The Cougars are hoping for better results this winter after going 2-21, 4-19 and 3-20 in coach Rob Hayes’ first three seasons.

Reassessing its objectives in the offseason, the Westland boys basketball team’s coaching staff decided the program needed a fresh start.

The Cougars hope a new mindset helps begin a turnaround after going 2-21, 4-19 and 3-20 in coach Rob Hayes’ first three seasons.

“We reconfigured some things,” Hayes said. “We lost a lot of experience and a lot of minutes off of last year’s team. We sat down in the offseason and said: 'Why does the coaching staff do this?' We want selfless kids, we want disciplined kids and we want enthusiastic kids. We’ve really brought everything back to that focus and the kids are buying in.”

The start of the regular season has been delayed because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

“We tell the kids to take it one day at a time,” Hayes said. “We don’t control anything other than what we do in practice that day. They’re aware of the current suspension of games. We don’t spend a great deal of time looking at what the schedule is going to be at the end of things. The guys want to compete against whoever is on the schedule.”

The Cougars are scheduled to open Dec. 18 at New Albany in an OCC-Ohio Division contest. The other teams in the league are Gahanna, Grove City, Pickerington North and Westerville Central.

Last season, Westland went 0-10 in the OCC-Central to finish sixth behind tri-champions Dublin Coffman, Marysville and Upper Arlington (all 8-2).

The Cougars have lost 39 consecutive league games.

“It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire,” Hayes said. “(The OCC-Ohio is) a tough division. There are some really good teams.”

Westland returns three players who received significant playing time last season, including 6-foot-4 junior guard Sohn McGee, who averaged a team-high 2.9 assists and was named special mention all-league.

“We’re trying to push through this (delay) and focus on us,” McGee said. “We’ve been pushing lately and have more energy. Everybody is really focused and ready to play.”

Also back are 6-3 senior forward Derrick Bogay and 6-7 junior forward Drew Panning.

The remaining players are in their first year on varsity. Rounding out the roster are seniors Mike Dingess (guard, 5-10) and Maleek Knight (6-3, forward), juniors Noah Reynolds (6-1, forward), Trevon Webb (6-0, guard) and Brad Weaver (6-5, center) and sophomores Hamze Abib (5-8, guard), Bryan Collins (5-11, guard), Dean Curtiss (6-0, guard) and Chike Obiagwu (5-10, guard).

“We have some guys who can compete and push some teams in the (OCC-Ohio),” Hayes said. “I would assume everyone in the world is going to think we’re going to go winless in this division and fall apart at the end of the year. I don’t think that’s going to happen. Success for us is staying focused on the things that we can control and the approach we want to take.”

A key loss to graduation was forward Eric Panning, who averaged 8.8 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds last season and was second-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.

The Cougars also lost guard Kalil Camara, who averaged a team-high 13.9 points, had a team-best 25 steals and was second in rebounding at 4.0 per game.

Senior guard Alexxus Phifer and the Cougars are working to improve after going 5-18 last season. "We have some pieces, so now we’re trying to put the puzzle together,” coach Nina Napolitano said.

Girls basketball team

seeks improvement

The girls basketball team is looking for improvement under second-year coach Nina Napolitano.

The Cougars finished 5-18 and 0-10 in the OCC-Central last season. They have lost 53 consecutive games in league play.

“We’re working on some pieces,” Napolitano said. “We still haven’t gotten things to click and find a good routine, but we had some new kids come out and I’m excited to see them grow and see their potential this year. We have some pieces, so now we’re trying to put the puzzle together.”

The Cougars are scheduled to open Dec. 18 against visiting New Albany.

The top returnees are 5-7 senior guard Alexxus Phifer and 6-2 senior forward Hannah Kershaw. Phifer averaged 6.2 points last season, and Kershaw averaged 5.8.

“(The program) has been through a lot, but this group is different,” Kershaw said. “The way we work together is different. There are things you have to overcome. Communication is one of our things. It’s really big now.”

Also back are senior Da-Miya Alderson (5-9, forward) and juniors Taylor Bronson (5-3, guard) and Brianna Woods (5-9, guard/forward).

“We’re really looking forward to the leadership that we should have on our team this year,” Napolitano said.

Junior Chyna Trois, a 5-0 guard and move-in from Alabama, should contribute.

“Chyna has potential,” Napolitano said. “She’s a quick little point guard. She’s going to handle the ball for us this year.”

Other players are senior Lyhea Correa (5-9, forward), junior Alex Carlton (5-3, guard), sophomore Katherine Bonilla (5-1, guard) and freshmen Lorelei Jones (5-6, guard), Elizabeth Perry (5-1, guard) and Hayleigh Thompson (5-10, forward).

“We have potential,” Napolitano said. “I really like the way our schedule is set up so we can get some wins, especially in our non-conference games. I like our odds there. Even in our conference, I think we can be competitive.”

Junior center Hayden Kershaw, who averaged a team-high 8.5 points last year and was honorable mention all-league, will miss the season with a knee injury.

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank

BOYS BASKETBALL

Coach: Rob Hayes, fourth season

Top players: Derrick Bogay, Sohn McGee and Drew Panning

Key losses: Kalil Camara, Hunter Corwin, Rece Evans and Eric Panning

Last season: 3-20 overall

2019-20 OCC-Central standings: Dublin Coffman, Marysville and Upper Arlington (8-2), Central Crossing (4-6), Hilliard Davidson (2-8), Westland (0-10)

2020 postseason: Lost to Walnut Ridge 78-44 in first round of Division I district tournament

GIRLS BASKETBALL

Coach: Nina Napolitano, second season

Top players: Hannah Kershaw, Alexxus Phifer and Chyna Trois

Key losses: Danielle Fout, Bailey Garner and Hayden Kershaw

Last season: 5-18 overall

2019-20 OCC-Central standings: Coffman (10-0), Davidson (7-3), Marysville (6-4), UA (5-5), Central Crossing (2-8), Westland (0-10)

2020 postseason: Lost to Pickerington Central 70-11 in first round of Division I district tournament