BELLEVILLE — Boys basketball season isn't yet in the books, but the Belleville girls soccer teams are ready to kick off a new year.
Althoff, Belleville East and Belleville West are drilling for their season openers, which will be Tuesday for Althoff and East.
The Crusaders will face Gillespie at 7 p.m. in the Metro-East Cup Tournament at McKendree University in Lebanon; East will play host to Gibault at 6:30 p.m.
West, meanwhile, will get an extra week to prepare for its first game, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on March 18 at Carbondale.
Juergen Huettner returns as Althoff's coach, while Jason Mathenia is back at West. East has a new coach in Brad Dietrich, a West graduate who replaces Alex McDonald.
Last season was a year of transition for the Crusaders, who struggled to an 8-14 record despite winning another South Seven Conference championship.
"I'm still not over that we were 8-14 last year," said Huettner, whose team was without midfielder Kelsey Dinges for the first time since 2008. "It was a tough year to swallow. So we definitely are not having any intentions of trying to repeat that situation. We obviously want to do a lot better than that."
The Crusaders return their top two scorers in senior forward Alexis "Baby" Jones, in her fourth year on the varsity, and junior midfielder Rachel Kaltwasser.
Jones, who has signed to play at McKendree, had 15 goals and nine assists last year; Kaltwasser collected 15 goals and eight assists.
"Alexis is all excited about the high-school season," Huettner said. "I expect Alexis to turn it up a little bit more. Rachel is a creative player. I think she's going to hit that (15-goal) mark again."
Senior Kennedy Sonsoucie and junior Kelly Brahmbhatt return in what could be a timeshare at goalie. Brahmbhatt logged the bulk of the duty last season and recorded four shutouts.
"They're dead-even," Huettner said. "I don't think one has the advantage over the other. If it stays like this, they'll probably split the time. But I hope one of them is trying to take the job."
Other key players include senior defender Megan Gillum, who missed last season with an injury, junior forward Natalie Heitzman, junior midfielder Savannah Ames and sophomore defender Mary Grace Lewis.
Heitzman played midfielder and defense in the past.
"She has two years of experience as a varsity player and we expect her to do a little bit of (scoring) for us," Huettner said.
Newcomers include freshman midfielders Payton Seibel and K.K. Voelker, both of whom are expected to start. Freshmen Anna Hanger and Shannon Maitland also will start as defenders.
Adding depth will be sophomore forward Abigail Irwin, senior defender Lauren Potje, sophomore midfielder Mary Jackson and senior midfielder Emily Jackson.
Sophomore forward Grace Rowan, who had four goals and four assists last year, will miss the season with a broken foot.
Graduation losses could prevent the Maroons from matching their 12-7-2 record of last season, which included a 2-3-1 mark in the Southwestern Conference.
But West returns a legitimate scorer in sophomore forward Sydnee Carroll, who knocked in 14 goals last season.
"She did well for us last year," Mathenia said. "She makes an impact on the game on the offensive end. So it's obviously nice to have her back."
The Maroons' graduation losses included midfielders Taylor Berutti and Taylor Lundy, defender Sam Glaeser, forward Molly Magnusen and defender Julie Weier.
"We're moving people around and we'll see where it takes us," Mathenia said. "There are a lot of question marks right now. But we'll compete. The girls know the expectations are always high."
Junior goalkeeper Mackenzie White is a rising star, while senior midfielder Caitlin Malherek, who played defense last year, will be a mainstay in the West lineup.
Sophomore Carli Tastad will play a midfield spot, and junior Sam Bibee will shift from defender to midfielder. Junior Brittney Gallego, who had four goals last season, also will be in the midfield, while senior Colbee Miller returns at defender. Senior Megan Mayville will offer depth at midfielder.
White had eight shutouts in goal last season.
"She did well for us last year in her first year of really seeing everything," Mathenia said. "Having a solid goalkeeper will take you a long way. She's matured quite a bit in the last year as far as a player. This should be a great year for her."
Dietrich takes over a team that was 17-4-1 overall and 4-1-1 in the SWC last season.
The Lancers will have a dynamic scoring combination in senior forward Kayla Delgado, an SIU Edwardsville recruit, and senior forward/midfielder Emily Costantini, who returns from an ACL tear that cut short her junior year.
Delgado had 32 goals and six assists last season. Costantini had eight goals and four assists at the time of her knee injury.
"(Delgado) has been a top-level player the last three years for East, and I don't expect anything different this year," Dietrich said. "(Costantini) is still on her way back. She's fighting through it and is excited and ready to go.
"It's good to have a very good goal-scorer alongside of another one. Emily will beat you north and south a lot more. Kayla is more of a holding player and likes the ball at her feet."
Seniors Tierra Poyner and Kaley Bell return at defender, and senior Abby Burgdorf is back at goalkeeper after recording seven shutouts last year. Junior midfielder Montana Sinn and junior defender Sydney Tedesco, who had four goals last year, also are back.
"We look solid," Dietrich said. "We've got some returners and obviously some new blood. We're figuring out the chemistry. We've got our seven returners and we're going to piece everything in around them.
"The talent level is there. But right now ... it's (about) our on-field chemistry. The team we've got is pretty close-knit off the field. If we can transfer that to the field ... we can get rolling and win some games."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.