BELLEVILLE — It can happen in the blink of an eye. Or in the case of the Althoff Crusaders, a matter of a few weeks.
Expected to be one of the top teams in southern Illinois during the 2012-13 season, the Crusaders have already suffered a pair of major setbacks with the loss of seniors Jazmine Stubblefield and Whitney Harris -- perhaps for the season -- with major injuries.
Stubblefield, a two-year starter at point guard, sustained a torn ACL during the first week of practice, while the 6-foot-2 Harris suffered a broken leg while playing for the Crusaders volleyball team last month.
"We were just going through some dribbling drills when Jazmine went down,'' Althoff coach Todd Hill said. "As a coach, injuries are the one thing that you have no control over. Losing both Whitney and Jazmine is big for us because they both have a lot of experience. Plus, now we've just two seniors in Mary (Cardenas) and Kymber (Hill).
"We're going to be very young. We're going to ask four freshman to come in and contribute for us and we've got a good group of sophomores and juniors who played last year."
Althoff, which finished 17-11 a year ago, opens its season on Nov. 23 against St. Joseph's Academy.
With the loss of Harris and Stubblefield, Althoff will be led by the 6-3 Kymber Hill.
Hill, who will attend the University of Massachusetts on a basketball scholarship, averaged 11 points and nine rebounds last season.
"It's all going to go through Kymber and I think she's ready for that challenge," Hill said. "She's worked hard, had a great summer and has gotten a lot stronger. She's a natural shot blocker and rebounder and offensively her skills have really improved."
Highly-touted freshman Alanna Bramwell (6-2) has been impressive in preseason workouts and is vying for a starting spot.
Two other key players will be Cardenas (5-9) and 5-9 junior Rachel Kaltwasser. Cardenas was a key role player a year ago, but will need to step up even more this season, while Kaltwasser, a starter last season, has been moved to the point guard spot.
"I have all the confidence in the world that Rachel will do a great job at the point for us. She really came on late last season and we're hoping she'll continue that momentum tum this year," Hill said. "Mary (Cardenas) is a player coaches love to have on their team. If we need to her to rebound, she does that. If we need to defend the other team's best player or if we need her to score, she'll do those things as well. She'll be a big part of this team.''
Several players are competing for playing time at the shooting guard spot. Sophomore Madison Weilbacher (5-9) and older sister Mackenzie Weilbacher (5-8) are in the mix along with junior Alexa Wilson (5-5) and another top freshman in 5-8 Danielle Hawthorne.
Sophomore Mary Jackson (5-9) saw playing time at the power forward spot last year and will be a key player while sophomore Kylie Sullivan (5-7) and freshmen Rachel Mertens (5-11) and Anna Hanger (5-8) will be key reserves.
Despite the injuries, Hill said he is looking for another good season from his Crusaders.
"It will be fun. I really enjoy this group. We might be young, but these kids are buying into what we're trying to do,'' Hill said. "Sometimes you can look into a kid's eyes and see if they're ready.
"These kids haven't blinked. I'm excited for them. We're going to go out there and play hard every night. That's the only thing I ask. Is that they give me their all every second they're on the floor.''