By Ben Stroup
When the Olentangy and Hayes girls basketball teams open league play tonight in Delaware, both will have plenty to prove.
It’s simple for the Braves. They want to show — despite losing all-everything guard Morgan Horvath and her fellow senior standouts to graduation — they have more than enough championship pedigree to repeat as OCC-Capital Division champs.
Olentangy finished 21-5 overall and a perfect 14-0 in league play last winter. The OCC championship was its fourth in the last six seasons.
“I think if we win all our league games again we have a pretty good shot at winning the title,” Olentangy coach John Feasel said jokingly. “Seriously, though, we just have to battle every night. Teams in our league are gonna be gunning for us … they’re going to give everything they have.”
To beat the Braves, though, teams will have to deal with their depth.
“Night in and night out, we have eight or nine girls who could start and I wouldn’t feel we were stretching ourselves. The girls on the floor will go really hard and, when I sub for them, we won’t lose anything.”
Olentangy will be led by its seven returning seniors — a class headlined by the likes of wing Kelly Meade and forward Emily Stephens.
“Kelly is the best scorer we’ve ever had here,” Feasel said. “Teams will key on her more than in the past because Morgan isn’t here, but she’s ready for that. She will be a four-year letterman while Emily, who is a team leader off the floor as much as on it, will be a three-year letterman.”
Guards Desiree Dulay, Christina Baumann, Chelsea Moore, Lydia Sanders and Celeste Clark round out the senior class.
“All of our seniors have been around the program forever, and they know what it takes to lead,” Feasel said.
Junior guards Allison Raiff and Julia Scott, junior wings Gillian and Abbey Feasel and sophomore guard Molly Delaney, who started some down the stretch as a freshman, will provide some of the aforementioned depth the Braves will use to wear down the opposition.
Sophomore guard Grace Pennington joins the team after earning all-district honors last year at Worthington Christian, and the twin towers — six-foot freshmen Emily and Olivia Margolies — will provide the team’s punch in the paint.
For the Pacers, who are already 1-0, tonight’s game, and the season, is about improving upon last year’s 3-19 campaign.
“Our primary goal is to play with perfect effort, play together, establish proper attitude and discipline in the program and improve daily,” first-year Hayes coach Jim Morgan said.
Leading the charge toward change are the Pacers’ three seniors — guard Kelsey Knodell and posts Brandy Bauer and Kara Wegmiller.
“We have excellent senior leadership,” Morgan said. “And strong underclassmen classes which will be counted on to contribute heavily. (I’ve seen) great attitudes and efforts thus far and the girls have bought into the new staff and system well.”
Junior Wing Katie Blair and junior forward Keiona Houser are also back after making significant contributions a year ago, while newcomers Elishia Lowery (junior guard), Madison Eldridge (sophomore guard), Maddie Smith (sophomore forward), Hannah Rafeld (junior guard), Jessica Walker (sophomore forward) and Rachel Bourget (sophomore guard) will be looking to make noise at the varsity level.
“The girls have bought in well to our philosophy and play with great effort,” Morgan said. “We want to be an up-tempo team and look to score off transition and our defense.”
Morgan is new to the Pacers, but hardly new to coaching. He joins Hayes after stints at Columbus Brookhaven, Fremont Ross, New Albany and Tree of Life.
He was inducted into the MSL Coaches Hall of Fame in 2006 and has received the following honors: OHSBCA 200 and 300 Wins Century Award; District 10 Coach of the Year (1996, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2015); 14 District 10 Outstanding Season Awards, MOCAL Co-Coach of Year (2006-11, 2015); and Central District Division IV Coach of the Year (2007-08).
Morgan has led teams to 13 conference titles, two district championships, three district finals, one regional runner-up finish, five district semifinals, one regional title and one state final four. His overall career record is 310-138
Tip for tonight’s showdown is set for 7:30 p.m.
Follow Ben Stroup on Twitter @delgazette_ben.