AYERSVILLE — Even with a disappointing COVID-19 related forfeit of its tournament opener and an up-and-down season with low roster numbers, Ayersville saw the product of some growing pains a season ago with a third-place finish in the Green Meadows Conference, the best result in five years for the Pilots.

Now in year three under head coach Tim Nicely, Ayersville has hopes on a similar finish or better in a competitive league race with six returning letterwinners and just one loss from a year ago.

The Pilots dealt with youth in last year’s 10-11 (4-3 GMC) campaign, with two freshmen and two sophomores in the starting lineup and just one senior on the varsity and JV rosters combined.

That senior, Kaylor Martin (1.5 ppg, 3.0 apg, 2.9 rpg), is the lone departure as the trial by fire at the varsity level will look to create battle-tested players this season.

Leading that list of returnees is second team all-GMC performer Ally Schindler. The 5-10 sophomore forward tallied 9.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game while shooting 50 percent from the field, earning a second team all-District 7 nod as well in her first taste of varsity action.

Joining Schindler is a pair of juniors who also saw plenty of playing time in 5-7 guard Kaylee Dockery (9.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, honorable mention all-GMC) and Neva Sheets (5-7, guard, 5.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 2.5 apg).

Senior leadership will also be in place for the Pilots this winter with Maci Froelich (5.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 23 steals) and Kacee Okuley (5-10, 3.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg) at forward positions.

6-0 center Taylor Craft was a revelation as a freshman for Nicely’s squad, putting up 6.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game in her 17 contests.

“We’ve got a lot of experience coming back,” noted Nicely, who enters with 104 career wins including seven seasons as Montpelier head coach. “We’ve got a mix of good outside shooters and a good inside game and the girls play really well together on the floor.”

The Pilots enter the regular season with an eight-player varsity roster, wo with 5-9 junior center Zarriya Young (1.1 ppg) and 5-6 sophomore guard Mabel McGuire (0.5 ppg) rounding out the upper listing, depth and contributions off the pine will be key to any success for the Pilots.

“One of our main keys right now is getting our bench to add on the offensive and defensive side when they’re in the game and called upon,” explained Nicely.

The Pilots have not won a Green Meadows Conference title since a three-peat from 2014-16 and have not finished higher than fourth outside of last season’s league finish.

To do so, Ayersivlle will look to take advantage of its balanced talent at the perimeter and in the paint.

“I believe we should have a very good season,” said Nicely. “We’ve got good experience coming back, we’ve got a very hard working group and they’ve got the ability to play the way good teams play, with a complementary game inside and outside.”

The Pilots will compete in a pair of two-day tournaments during the season, tipping off in the Defiance Physical Therapy Classic on Dec. 6-7 at Defiance High School before hosting their annual Holiday Tournament on Dec. 27-28 with Toledo Christian, Miller City and North Baltimore.

Ayersville will begin its Green Meadows Conference slate on the road on Dec. 16 against Paulding while drawing county foes Hicksville (Jan. 6) and Fairview (Feb. 3) at “The Hangar” while traveling to rival Tinora on Jan. 13.

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