After a few lean years, Northwestern's girls basketball team has been on a steady rise over the last two seasons.
The Lady Tigers, which won just three games in the 2009-10 season, won seven games the next year and improved to 15-9 overall and 11-5 in the Colonial League last year.
They qualified for the district playoffs for the first time in three years and made league playoffs for the first time since winning the 2007 title.
This year's team, which returns five players with experience as varsity starters, has realistic hopes of winning a championship banner this year.
"Our goal is to win the Colonial League championship," said 10th-year head coach Chris Deutsch. "That is the goal. Is it going to be easy? No. You have a lot of balance in the Colonial League this year."
The Tigers likely starting line up includes seniors Sara Jones and Kaleen Suter, junior Trista Cunningham and sophomores Sabrina Mertz and Sarah Segan.
Jones, who has led the team in scoring the past three years, comes into the season with 881 points for her career and will likely cross the 1,000-point mark, although that's not her biggest concern heading into the season.
"I really just want a title," said Jones. "If (her 1,000th point) comes along, it comes along."
Jones, who will play mostly shooting guard and small forward, averaged 14.3 points per game last season and was a unanimous All League First Team selection.
Suter returns to the line up after missing last season with an ACL tear. As a sophomore she was the team's second-leading scorer (8.3 ppg).
Cunningham, a center who earned a spot in the starting line up five games into her freshman season, was third on the team with 6.6 points per game last year and was the team's top rebounder.
Mertz and Segan played fearlessly as freshmen last year.
Segan was second on the team with 8.1 points per game. A 5-foot-9 guard/forward, she can fill any position on the floor and will be a match up problem for opposing teams.
Mertz, who scored 6.17 points per game, was the team's point guard and earned All League Honorable Mention Honors as a freshman. She is also a tenacious defensive player.
According to Deutsch, defense is the key to success this season.
"If we don't play good defense we're going to struggle," he said. "We have to get up and pressure people. We want an up-tempo type of game. The faster the game the better for us."
Deutsch likes this team as much as any he has ever coached. He appreciates the players' work ethic, tenacity and toughness from top to bottom, not just in the starting five. The team has more depth than any he has coached in the past.
Two players return from last year's varsity roster in juniors Erynn Day and Cheyenne Shupp.
Several varsity newcomers will also see significant minutes.
Sophomore Lauren Anderson and freshmen Megan Landrigan and Erika Thomas could also see a lot of playing time.
Junior Kylee Bennett, sophomore Lexi Gawelko and freshman Mikaela Koenig will also help the team.
"We have great depth," said Deutsch. "If you want to play an up-and-down, pressure type of game, you've got to have a bench. You can't get away with that with six or seven girls. Not at this level."