With just one starter graduated from last year, Northwestern expects to be a much better team than the one that went 3-19 overall and 3-13 in the Colonial League last year.

The Tigers return their best player in sophomore guard Sara Jones and several other player who got valuable experience last year.

"Going into the season our goal is we want to be more competitive in games than we were last year," said Northwestern head coach Chris Deutsch. "We want to make the district playoffs."

Jones will play one of the two guard positions this year. Deutsch had not finalized his starting line up as of last week, but he said senior guard/forward Nycole Everett and sophomore forward Kaleen Suter were likely to be starters.

"It's open competition," Deutsch said. "The best players are going to play. Some of these younger girls have given outstanding effort at practice. They're going to challenge to older players for playing time."

Four players are likely . Seniors Jenny Gulick and Jenn Groller or juniors Emma Kemmerer and Caileigh Landrigan were all vying for those spots through a week and a half of practice.

Duetsch said several other players on the varsity roster could earn significant playing time and even some junior varsity players might be able to help the varsity team this season.

"We're not getting effort out of some of these kids in practice," Deutsch said. "The girls that are giving the best effort are going to play."

The rest of the varsity roster includes senior Kayla Shoemaker, a transfer from Kutztown; juniors Jess Albright, Taylor Dietrich and Jen Nemes; sophomore Abby Heydlauf; and freshmen Trista Cunningham and Cheyenne Shupp, who moved to Northwestern from Palmerton.

Shoemaker is around 6-feet tall, Deutsch said, and could provide some much-needed size. Cunningham is very athletic and is the team's best jumper, Duetsch said.

The team will likely count on Jones to carry the scoring load. She led the team last year and earned an All Colonial League Honorable Mention.

"If you have a player like that, she makes everybody better," Deutsch said. "Sometimes I think she's too unselfish. We want her to shoot the ball more. She really plays within the team concept. She gets her teammates involved. She's a great athlete and a great kid. She's a very team oriented type of player. I'm so glad we're going to have her the next three years."

This year Jones will likely see more junk defenses that are implemented for the sole purpose of shutting her down.

"Having a Jones back makes a big difference," Deutsch said. "However, it's going to be harder for her because teams now know who she is. Our thing is we need other girls to step up and do some scoring."

That could be a big key to Northwestern's success. If another scorer can emerge to take pressure off Jones and pull some defenders out of her way, then the Tigers should be able to put up more than the 34 points per game they averaged last year.

They will also need to improve on the defensive end, especially with one of their best defenders, Natalie Hill, graduating. Northwestern gave up 53 points per game last year. In order to have success this season, the Tigers need to trim that 21-point gap in their points scored to points against ratio.

"We're hoping to improve that," Deutsch said.