Heading into the 2012-13 basketball season, the Morris girls team seemed to be fighting an uphill battle. Coming off a 7-22 season with just two seniors returning from a year ago, and a team not blessed with great size things did not seem to be lining up for the Redskins this winter.
Still, don't try to tell the team that the season is going to be a lost cause.
"I don't know our strengths yet on the basketball court, but our attitude and work ethic shouldn't be a problem," Morris coach Luke Windy said. "The kids are going to work their butts off no matter what."
Which certainly seems to be main strength of the team.
"The key is that we need to hustle. We're most likely going to pressure the ball (defensively) and keep the press on," Morris guard Sydney Corrigan said. "We're also going to try and use our speed to get as big as we can."
Corrigan is one of the two seniors on the team this winter with 5-11 center Bernadette Cheshareck being the other.
'We knew since last year that we were only going to have two seniors on the team this year. Because of that, we have been ready to come out and play together. We're going to go as hard as we can," Morris junior Katie Friend said. "Everyone on the team is chipping in. We don't have a standout leader, but everyone is stepping up when they have to."
Corrigan, Friend and Julie Jurasits are projected to be in the starting lineup this year with the other two spots "up for grabs" at this point according to Windy.
Jurasits says that not having a true team leader doesn't seem to be a problem to this point.
"Everyone's got to be willing to step up and do things the right way," she said. "There really is no specific leader on the team this year, everyone is leading. We are all learning from each other."
Corrigan thinks that having players on the team like Friend and Jurasits makes up for the lack of upperclassmen on the team.
"Since most of us have played together before, it doesn't feel like there is as much pressure, but I do feel like I have to be a leader," Corrigan said. "Still, you have someone like Julie, who is only a sophomore, but it feels like she is a leader already. The same thing goes for Katie."
Including Friend, there are seven juniors on the team this year including Lauren Severson, Maddy Feeney, Val Pfaff, Ashley Bojovic, Jade Fischer and Kellen Bernickus.
So, is there any downfall to having so many new players to the team this year?
"It's not really a downfall, but one of the things is them adjusting to the speed of the game," Corrigan said. "There is a difference with the speed between the frosh-soph and varsity levels."
Windy doesn't see one glaring weakness in the team this year, though there are many areas he believes needs work.
"I don't see any glaring holes, but we just need to work on a little bit of everything," the 10-year coaching veteran said. "We can always get better defensively, rebound better, take care of the ball better ... the one thing this group does well is that it tries to correct their mistakes and they want to get better."
No girl on the team this year is over 5-11 in height, but that doesn't mean the team won't rebound according to Jurasits.
"Just because we don't have a lot of height doesn't mean that we can't do things the right way," she said.
According to Friend, the team has tweaked some things on the offensive side of the ball this year.
"We've changed things a little on offense. We're going to push the ball more this year," she said. "We're also going to probably shoot more from the outside this year. That's something different than we've done in the past."
"We have good outside shooters this year," Corrigan confirmed.
One of the things that has not changed, however, is the Redskins placing emphasis on playing defense.
"We are really stressing defense in practice ... defense is about desire and pride and these girls have that," Windy said.
"We're focused on defense this year because we know that's the key to shutting down other teams," Corrigan said. "I feel we've gotten a lot better since last year. We have quicker players now."
There is no doubt then why the goals put in front of the team this year are defensive oriented.
"We want to break the 40-under club record. The record is 16 times, so we're shooting for 17. Also, we want to hold our opponents to a season-total of 1,082," Windy said. "The record is 1,083. The 2006-07 team set both of those records and went 19-9 so, like I told the girls, if they break the records they will have a successful season."
In terms of the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference this year, Windy thinks Morris is going to have several teams to contend with.
"DeKalb is going to be loaded. They lost one girl from the super-sectional team and added a freshman that is very good," he said. "Kaneland is going to be very good and athletic. Yorkville is also going to be really good. They (the Foxes) have some great basketball players and a good sophomore bunch coming up. I would think that those three schools are at the top.
"Rochelle, Sycamore and us should be fighting to get to the top tier. Rochelle lost a lot of varsity players, but have a sophomore bunch from last year that won the conference. Sycamore lost a lot but they have a program that is on the rise. This is a very tough basketball conference and we are looking forward to competing night in and night out."
It's an excitement that is apparent this year, no matter the size and stature of the team on the outside.
"We're excited," Friend said. "There are only nine girls on the team this year, but that means everyone is going to play and that's exciting."