BELLEVILLE — Always a very emotional occasion, Senior Night for the Althoff girls basketball team will no doubt be a special one when it rolls around with the cold weather in February.
But with just one senior on the roster, don't expect the pregame ceremony to be a long one.
Beginning her fourth season in the Crusaders starting lineup, senior Rachel Kaltwasser will lead a young and inexperienced squad trying to rebound from a disappointing 10-15 season a year ago.
Expected to be one of top players in the South Seven Conference this season, Kaltwasser will need to the cornerstone of an Crusaders program which has 14 sophomores and freshmen on its 19-player junior-varsity and varsity rosters.
The Crusaders youth movement has meant even more work for coach Todd Hill, who has spent more time at the chalkboard during the first three weeks of practice then ever before.
"There has been a lot of teaching going on. But that's fine because as a coach, that's what you're supposed to be about,'' Hill said. "Sometimes when you have a young team, getting back to the fundamentals isn't necessarily a bad thing. Also having a young group gives you a chance to shape and mold them into the type of team you hope to become.''
Hill still has time to work with his young but talented Crusaders squad. Althoff doesn't open its season until Dec. 2 at Marion. The Crusaders home opener is on Dec. 7 against South Seven Conference preseason favorite Carbondale.
A 5-9 guard, Kaltwasser averaged 12 points and just under four assists a game a year ago. Others returning include juniors Madison Weilbacher (5.8 ppg.), Mary Jackson and Kylie Sullivan along with sophomores Danielle Hawthorne, Anna Hanger (3.2) and Rachel Mertens (1.3).
After that are junior Amari Fennoy, sophomore Kristin Stover and a whole lot of talented but young freshmen.
"This is great group of girls who want to be a good basketball team," Hill said. "Everytime we had an open gym and this summer when we played, the turnout was great. These girls want to learn and they want to continue to improve.''
While Hill will continue to coach the basics, Kaltwasser will be the Crusaders coach on the floor during the 2013-14 season.
"We asked Rachel to do alot last year in terms of playing point guard and handling the basketball and I think it took some of her game away in that she wasn't about to move off the ball as much. Rachel can score points in bunches and she wasn't about to do that as much," Hill said. "But with the development of Anna (Hanger) playing the point, it will allow Rachel to move back to a position (shooting guard) where she's more comfortable.''
The 5-10 Weilbacher is a gifted all around athlete and Jackson (5-8) will be mainstays at the forward spots, while also expected to play key roles will be freshmen Kyleigh Vaught, Rachel Collins and Maggie Reimer.
"With all the injuries we had last year, players like Danielle Hawthorne, Anna (Hanger) and Rachel (Mertens) got a chance to show what they can do and that experience will be invaluable this year,'' Hill said. "The freshmen class is a very talented one. I think our future looks bright.''
Hill also has high hopes for freshmen Andersyn Watts, Emily Myatt, Amanda Kaltwasser, Destiny Johnson, Divine Lane, Kennedy Sims and Ellie Martz.