The looming question at the end of the last basketball season was how would St. James make up for the lost talents of their two graduating superstars, Devin Fuhring and Kenzie Guese.
While you can't replace talent like that, the Lady Tigers will need to find a new source of points and leadership. It's something they're still working on as they prepare for the season.
"We're just trying to build right now. We're trying to figure out who we and how to make them good practice players," said head coach Terry Wells. "What nobody realizes is you don't just miss the points and rebounds, you miss the way that kids like that go about things every day.
"I really think right now that we're starting from the ground and seeing what we have," continued Wells. "The quicker they figure out how to become good practice players and what they'e going to be successful at and what we're going to be successful at, the quicker this team will start making strides and improvement."
One of the questions coach Wells is still trying to find an answer to is who his leaders will be this season. They have a few candidates in junior point guard Savanna Riccetti and their two seniors Quinn Paulus and Kennedy Fane, but there's a learning curve there.
"I'll get back to ya, I think we're working on it. We need that. When that shows up, but it's not easy. You can't just say 'well they graduated, so I'm a leader now.' It's a process that these kids are going to have to figure out, figure out how to be a leader," said the St. James head coach. "I think we have some kids trying and I think we'll get there. With Savanna Riccetti coming back and our seniors Quinn and Kennedy, those are kids that can kind of step into that role, but it's a role that's new to them. Everything right now is a learning process for us."
Some of that leadership needs to come in the form of scoring, as Fuhring and Guese took care of most of the offensive output last season. So far, Wells has seen a couple of players being more aggressive with the ball, but he wants to see more.
"Even this summer (Riccetti) looked to be a little more assertive offensively. Ashlyn Rinehart has stepped up kind of and started to look to score the ball more. Our freshmen are growing," said Wells. "We have some kids trying to do things the right way and it's just a matter of us as a group figuring that out. Certainly, Savannah and Ashlyn are going to have to step up and look to put the ball in the hole for us this year."
Coach Wells has seen Ashlyn Rinehart as the most improved player he has right now. While many players on the team have shown a lot of inconsistency in practice, Rinehart has put in a lot of time to step up her game.
"I think our most improved player is probably Ashlyn Rinehart. She's a kid who got hurt late last year with a stress fracture in her shin, but she's a kid who's kind of a gym rat," said coach Wells. "She spends a lot of time on the game and this summer she really did some good things. I think that's a kid that, at least statistically, has made a jump. I think she'll be able to put the ball in the hole some and give us some scoring and she can score from inside or out."
Rinehart was one of several people who had to fight through injuries last season, which led to a few players being thrown into the fire down the stretch. Hopefully those tough games will cut into the Lady Tigers' learning curve once they get into game.
"You hope that, ya know, we played in a lot of big games down the stretch, a lot of high pressure games going for our conference and then trying for a District Championship," said coach Wells. "Just being in that environment, you'd think is going to help the kids this year. At least that's what you hope for. Hopefully they can step up and not be shocked by the situation."
Those injuries also forced St. James to have smaller and smaller rotations. Look for them to go back to running with as many as 10 players seeing some action in a game, rather than the five or six that did for stretches last season.
"Well injuries kind of forced us into (not subbing much) last year. We really started the year with a lot of pressure and tempo and were successful with it, but it was a war of attrition," said the Lady Tiger head coach. "This year, I think we'll have eight or nine kids in the rotation and they'll all get to play. It's just, they haven't figured out, and in turn us coaches haven't figured out, exactly what their roles are going to be because they don't show us every day in practice. They don't show us drill to drill a day to day consistency."
While some of these players had the chance to play in some pressure situations last season, the Lady Tigers have a new form of pressure this year. None of the players on this team have ever had to be the go-to player on a varsity basketball team and have a high standard to live up to as a girls basketball team in St. James. Coach Wells sees that pressure as another learning experience for his players.
"I think there's pressure on these kids and I think they feel that. It's sometimes unfair, but I'll tell them that there's nothing you're going to do in life that's not going to have pressure on you," said Wells. "It's something they need to get used to. It's going to be good for them in the long run, it's just right now, we're all struggling with what we want to be and what we're gonna be.
There will be quite a few players that saw little to no varsity time last season that coach Wells is hoping will make an impact. St. James has a pair of juniors in Mikaela Donnelly and Alyssa Rinehart who saw some time down the stretch, but will play a lot more this season. He also plans on having three freshmen see a lot of the court in Hannah Marcee, Riley Whitener and Bailey Wells.
"We have a couple of juniors in Miki Donnelly and Alyssa Rinehart who played a little bit at the varsity level towards the end of the year," said coach Wells. "They were brought up after some injuries and got some important minutes and took some important shots, so we're hoping that little taste of it will help them.
We'll have three freshmen I think in the regular rotation, at least that's the plan, you know how that works," continued Wells. "Those kids are going to have to get used to a different speed and a different strength of the games. This summer, they got a little taste of that. And they've had their moments, we've all had our moments, we're just struggling with that consistency."
While this team will not have the experience of past teams, coach Wells always keeps the same expectations.
"We don't change our expectations," said the St. James head coach. "It has nothing to do with the talent, ability, anything like that. Our expectation is that we play harder than everyone else and that's pretty much where it ends. I can coach basketball, I do not coach effort."