Head coach Julie Buckler is still ciphering how to piece together a winning puzzle that could possibly lead to the Suburban League National Conference championship for her Nordonia girls basketball team.

"We’re trying to see what works and what doesn’t work right now," she said. "We’re filtering people around to see what is meshing well together and what isn’t quite working.

"We’re trying to figure out our position offensively, and we’re trying to see where people fit in to our offense. If we can push the ball ahead in our transitional offense, then that’s what our goal is to do.

"But if we have to slow it down, we can do that. Defensively, I’m very proud of the way we’ve been playing in our scrimmages and transitioning into our offense."

The Knights lost three players from last year’s 18-7 team – Sandra Spellman and Ariyaun Robinson to graduation last spring and Soleil Barnes, whose family moved to Michigan.

"Soleil averaged about 14 points per game, Sandra averaged around nine points per game and Ariyaun was a very good role player who could get rebounds at critical times," said Buckler. "We’ll miss all three of those girls."

Leading the way for Nordonia will be 6-foot-1 sophomore guard/forward Madison Cluse.

"Madison is coming off a great season as a freshman in which she was a starter," Buckler said. "She is a very talented player on the offensive end and the defensive end.

"She does things that are hard to be taught. She has this natural athletic ability that her teammates feed off of. She was our leading rebounder last year and one of our top scorers."

Junior Dominique Evans will likely be the Knights’ point guard.

"Dominique doesn’t necessarily show her ability in the points column, but she does a lot of the little things," said Buckler. "She just works and works and gives great effort on both ends of the floor.

"She’s probably our top defender just because she can put pressure on somebody. She’s deceivingly quick in a way that she has the ability to read situations and make things happen."

Two other guards who will be major contributors are sophomore Hallie Majoros and senior Sion Williams.

"Hallie is just a great shooter," the coach said. "If we need a shot to be knocked down, she’s going to step in. She wants to be in that position. She also can drive to the basket and create offense.

"Sion is stepping up and being a great vocal leader. It may not show in the points column, but she’s going to be giving it her best on the defensive end and doing whatever she can to help her teammates out."

Junior Lizzie Imrie, a 6-foot guard/forward, will provide wonderful leadership on and off the court.

"Lizzie gives such great effort," said Buckler. "She just wants to be on the floor at all times. She creates offense for herself, and she does the best job of creating offense for her teammates. She not only looks out for herself, she wants her team to compete more than anything."

Also on the team will be junior guard Eden Kereky, sophomore forward DeeDee Adkins, freshman guard/forward Kennedy Syllaba and freshmen guards Celine Puscian and Ella Gorta.

Buckler’s assistant coaches will be Ryan Flinn, Matt Spellman and Sandra Spellman.

According to Buckler, the National Conference will be up for grabs.

"Wadsworth has a great program from top to bottom," she said. "I know they lost a few girls to graduation, but their program is a well-run machine. Stow-Munroe Falls is always competitive."

Buckler said that, going into each scrimmage, her players pledge a goal for the day – what they want to work for most and what they want to focus on.

"A lot of times, our defense is one of the main things we’re focusing on," she said. "I think that has translated into how we have performed in some of our scrimmages and how we hope to perform this season – to put pressure on the other team and to provide help for our teammates when needed.

"This team can be very special."

Nordonia is scheduled to open the season as part of the Bulldog Battle at Canton McKinley. The Knights are set to play McKinley Friday at 8 p.m. and New Philadelphia Saturday at 6:30 p.m.