After years of excellence resulting in finishes at or near the top of the Southwestern Conference, the Belleville East Lancers begin the 2012-13 girls basketball season in the rebuilding mode.
And coach Andrea Seipp is fine with it.
"Actually I kind of expected it," Seipp said. "We graduated six seniors and basically we have just two players back who played on the varsity last year. I guess you could say we've taken a step backwards and gone back to fundamentals just because we have so many new people.
"I've told the girls that we're a work in progress and that we're nowhere near where we were a year ago at this time. But that's all right because the harder we work, we're going to see the rewards and hopefully keep improving as the season goes on.''
The Lancers, who finished 19-11 a year ago, will open their season on Thursday when they play Olney at 6:30 p.m. in the first round of the Salem Thanksgiving Tournament.
Led by 5-10 junior Montira Mosby and 5-11 senior Aniecia Brewster, the young Lancers will play five games in nine days in the pool play tournament before the Southwestern Conference season begins.
The Salem Tournament will give Seipp chance to see her team compete against quality teams it normally wouldn't get to play.
We're taking the approach that we're not worried about what everybody else is going to do. We're just concerned about what we're doing.'' Seipp said.
"This tournament will provide us a chance to play five games and give us a chance to play different lineups and use different offenses and defenses. That way, by the time the SWC season opens, we'll have an idea of what we want to do.''
For the Lancers to be successful, they'll need production at both ends of the floor as well as leadership from Mosby and Brewster.
Mosby averaged 5 points last season, but is much improved after a summer of basketball that included playing with, among others, Carlyle senior and University of Michigan recruit Paige Rakers on the Team Adidas AAU team of St. Louis.
"Montira was probably our most consistent player a year ago in that we knew what we were going to get from her every single night. She's a versatile player who can play either guard or forward,'' Seipp said "Montira has also worked on her perimeter shooting so now she can take the jump shot from the outside or she can go inside and take the ball to the basket.''
"Montira and Aniecia have also done a great job in leadership for our younger players.''
Brewster, a major NCAA Division I track and field recruit, may be one of the top athletes in any sport in the SWC. Brewster averaged 5.5 points off the bench last season and, like Mosby, will play multiple positions
"Aniecia is by far our team leader. She is a phenomenal track athlete and she will be stronger and faster then anyone she goes up against. She can run, she can jump and she can defend. For her, its all about staying under control and out of foul trouble.''
Senior Melissa Bridges (5-8) played her freshman season at Belleville East, but has spent the last two years attending high school in North Carolina
Bridges is back and will see plenty of time at the guard spot along with juniors Chamecia Liddell (5-2) and Ryley Blomberg (5-5) and sophomore Kelsey Smith (5-4).
"They all have different strengths and weaknesses. But they'll all play. It just depends on what kind of team we're playing,'' Seipp said. "If we're playing a team which plays zone, the shooters will play. If we're facing a man-to-man, the ball-handlers will play.''
Also expected to play a lot will be athletic senior TeQuera Anderson (5-7) and 6-foot senior Sadie Mosby.
Mosby saw limited varsity action a year ago.
Juniors Brynesha Mosby (5-7) and Taylor Sunkett (6-1) and sophomore Erin Holl (5-7) will be key reserves of the bench.
Another major plus for Seipp has been the work ethic and togetherness shown by her team in the preseason.
"This is a great bunch of kids and the team chemistry has just been tremendous,'' Seipp said. "They know about our tradition here and they know our goal is to be playing our best basketball in February.''