O'FALLON — The O'Fallon Panthers are starting anew.
"It's a very, very fresh feeling in the program right now at every level," said Panthers coach Ryan Massey, whose squad opens the 2012-13 girls basketball season against Chatham Glenwood at noon Saturday at Chatham. "We're an unknown commodity, but it's kind of exciting."
The Panthers lost seven seniors from a team that posted a 14-12 record last year to graduation, while volleyball standout Katie Roustio and softball standout Taylor Underwood both opted not to play basketball this year.
That leaves junior guard Ciara Jones, who averaged 5.5 points per game and registered 48 assists and 47 steals last season, as the lone returning player with significant varsity experience.
"She is going to be doing a little bit of everything for us this year," Massey said of the 5-foot-10 Jones. "She will not be playing point guard or center, but she could be a 2-3-4 for us.
"We're loaded with guards. I bet I have five girls on my varsity who at some point or another will be handling the point-guard duties. We're not lacking in that area. We are lacking in size, but I'm hoping we make up for that with some speed and pressure and stuff like that."
Junior guards Jasmine Bonds, Blair Butler, Athena Eccher all saw sparse action on varsity last season.
"Even though we have quite a few juniors, our varsity experience is slim to none," Massey said.
The Panthers have one senior -- 5-foot-3 guard Chyah McIntosh -- but she didn't play last year. The rest of Massey's squad consists of sophomores and juniors.
Massey said sophomore guard Tami Cardenas and sophomore forward Tori Weiss will be seeing some valuable minutes this season.
Forward Maddy Ryan, a 5-11 junior, will provide a post presence for the Panthers. Center Chloe Luster, a 6-foot junior, will be eligible after Christmas.
"In the same sense that teams with big players may create matchup problems for us, you always have to flip the switch on that and say that teams are going to have bring post players out to guard our guards, which could be an advantage for us," Massey said.
Junior guards Jourdan Phillips and Camille Paul, junior forward Ally Warren and junior center Chloe Luster round out the Panthers' roster.
"Anybody on our varsity roster is going to have a chance to compete for minutes," Massey said. "As a matter of fact, I told the girls that I would have the starters for our game tomorrow at practice today. That's how competitive it actually has been. I have to meet with my assistant coaches to discuss who are going to be the starters."
Massey said the Panthers will be going up-tempo for the first time since his first season as coach in 2006.
"We're going to have to play very, very fast," Massey said. "I think that's pretty common for a lot of the schools in our conference this year. If I have been reading scores and things right, it looks like Belleville East and Belleville West are trying to run and press this year, and that's very similar to what we want to try to do.
"There could be some track meets on the basketball court in our conference this year."
Massey said Edwardsville was on the only school in the Southwestern Conference that wasn't hit hard by graduation.
"The only team that has a veteran squad in the conference this year is Edwardsville," Massey said. "They have three, maybe four, returning all-conference players and the only other team with a returning all-conference player is Granite City.
"They've got the big girl (Natalie O'Keefe). I think there is a lot of unknowns. I think it's going to be very competitive in the middle of the conference, and I think there are going to be some battles."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.