Just three years ago, the Marian girls' basketball team was regarded as the best small school program in the state.
Since that time, they've spent the last few years trying to get back their image of a championship-caliber team.
The Fillies have posted a combined 30-17 record the past two seasons, which included back-to-back eliminations in the District 11 semifinals. While that would be outstanding for some programs, it has been more of a transitional period of rebuilding for Marian coach Paul Brutto..
While this year's team is still relatively young with eight freshmen on the roster and only six returnees having any varsity experience, there is reason for optimism as the Fillies welcome back a few key cogs to their starting lineup, including three of their top four scorers from last year.
"Half of our roster this year is from the freshman class, and while that bodes well for the future, right now we're a very young team," stated Brutto. "We lost six seniors, so that's a lot of experience out the door, but I'm pretty happy with what we have coming back."
Danielle Tristani (a 5-9 junior forward) returns to the starting lineup as Marian's leading scorer from last season with 8.83 points per game. Joining her down low in the post will be 5-11 senior forward Gillian Ferko. Last season, Ferko averaged 7.27 points per game and was the team's leading rebounder.
At guard, junior Kaysi McLaughlin (8.04 points per game) returns as the team's leading three-point shooter with 25 treys.
"I like our team, but I think we're going to have to play a little more up-tempo than we have the past couple of years," added Brutto. "Right now, we're struggling in half-court offensive execution, so we want to speed up the game and spread the court because Gillian (Ferko) is our only post presence, both from a scoring and rebounding standpoint."
Ferko will be joined inside by 5-7 senior Corrine Markiewicz and 5-9 junior Kelly Shober, while senior Kaycee Gutsie will join McLaughlin at guard.
Brutto will be looking to two newcomers to handle point guard responsibilities, as sophomore Samantha Faust and freshman Gabby Green look to see significant minutes.
"Kaysi (McLaughlin) is a streak shooter and has no fear of taking the open shot. She's also probably our best defensive player."
"As for Danielle (Tristani), she's just naturally gifted and is probably the best athlete on our team. She struggles with consistency at times, but we're hoping that'll improve as she matures with another year of varsity experience."
Coming off the bench for the Fillies will be junior Kim Wilson, a 5-7 junior forward, and two freshman guards (Lindsay Nemeth and Emily Sofranko).
Last year, Marian averaged 44.13 points per game, while giving up 35.67 points.
"We certainly work hard on our half-court defense and we're going to try to press a little more this year," concluded Brutto. "Now that's going to go one of two ways, we're either going to get steals and scores or else we're going to give up some extra points."
"We've been a young team the past few years, but I'm hoping this year they're a little more mature and they understand that you can set all the goals you want, but it's how you go about your day-to-day business that determines whether you get there or not."