GARDNER — You could count the number of seniors on the Gardner-South Wilmington girls basketball team on Miranda Faletti's thumbs, except one of them is currently broken.
Faletti's absence, which is expected to last into December, means 5-3 point guard Chelsea Schultz will be the only senior in uniform when the Lady Panthers open at home Monday versus Manteno. Five juniors and four sophomores join Faletti and Schultz on the roster.
Schultz averaged a team-high 10.6 points per game in 2011-12 along with 3.3 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 2.0 steals. With the team's second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-leading scorers from a year ago gone, she knows her point production must increase.
"Last year, I was looking like for more passing, but with some of our big scorers gone, I know I'll have to shoot," Schultz said before practice Thursday evening. "I have (worked on shooting this offseason). Mostly I just go in my back yard and shoot around. Mr. (Adam) Leigh has been pressuring me in practice to look for my shot more than I tend to do."
Leigh, who is entering his third season as head coach at GSW, has expectations for Schultz that go beyond scoring.
"This is the least amount of seniors I've had here," Leigh said. "I'm not just looking for more shots and more points from (Schultz). I'm looking for her to be more vocal. She's not been as vocal in the past as maybe I would like her to be. We need her to be our leader."
Faletti will be replaced as the starting post, at least temporarily, by 5-10 junior Breann Fisher. Other likely starters are 5-foot-7 junior Sam Schultz at forward and 5-5 junior Aly Matthews and 5-4 junior Paige Lardi at off guard. Reann Scoggin, a 5-2 junior, will provide depth at guard. Sophomores Julie Chambers, Emily Foley, Lexi Posing and Taylor Speed round out the varsity roster.
"We have five juniors and I hope they can come up big for us. Lexi Posing is really going to help," Schultz said. "(Posing) is a strong player in the post. She is tall and can score points and get rebounds down low."
Many of the varsity newcomers were part of a winning junior varsity season in 2011-12. Essentially, everyone who played in the program at any level last winter will get a varsity crash course this year.
"I'm taking the entire sophomore class," Leigh said. "I'm going to dress all four of them and they'll all have a chance to win playing time."
After its Monday opener, GSW begins play in the Lexington Holiday Classic on Thursday. Its River Valley Conference opener is Nov. 29 at St. Anne.
"I expect Tri-Point to be really tough to beat. I don't think they lost anyone from last year," Leigh said. "Beyond that, it's hard to say. St. Anne and Beecher both lost a ton, but they're both always strong, and I expect them to compete. I have to say Tri-Point looks like the team to beat, but beyond that it's pretty open."