The Jim Thorpe girls' basketball team simply wants to "take that next step."

A year ago, the Lady Olympians took the first step by qualifying for the postseason for the first time in nine years.

This season, the Olympians want more a lot more.

"We would like to think we can contend for a division, league or even a district title," Olympians' head coach Rob Kovac said. "We would like to think we're going to be in the mix for all of those things."

Kovac's lofty expectations stem from the fact that Jim Thorpe posted a 16-7 record last season and lost just one starter from that squad. The loss was a big one, however, as four-year starter Brittany Holland graduated..

The good news, however, is that Kovac returns a wealth of battle-tested veteran players in Celeste Robinson, Chelsea Smelas, Kristen Lawrence, Nina Batts, Jeanna McElmoyle and Chasity Mosteller.

"We're so experienced right now," Kovac said. "With have four starters returning, who have all played significant minutes (all but Mosteller played in all 23 games). That includes playing time against Pine Grove in the Schuylkill League playoffs and against Tamaqua, at Martz Hall, in the District playoffs.

"In the early stages of the season, there won't be much that we haven't seen."

Robinson, Smelas and Lawrence will all be in their fourth years as starters for Kovac while Batts be in her second year as a starte. McElmoyle and Mosteller, who are also both four-year varsity players, are the individuals vying for the final starting spot.

Smelas has the most experience among the upperclassmen. She enters having played 67 consecutive varsity games, while Robinson only missed starts when she was out with injuries in both her sophomore and junior years.

Robinson, who surpassed the 1,000 career-point plateau last season, edged TIMES NEWS Player of the Year Amy Zehner to lead the coverage area in scoring average at 22.9 points per game a year ago. Smelas also just cracked the area top-10 with a 12.1 point per game average.

The Olympian duo sparked their team to the second-highest scoring average (53.26) of any girls team in the TN coverage area. Lawrence provided the team's perimeter shooting, leading the area with 42 three-pointers.

While she didn't put up the same type of offensive numbers as the Olympians' other returning starters, Batts' controbutions can't be overlooked..

"Batts might be the best defender in the league this year," Kovac said. "She has guarded some of the best basketball players over the years and certainly will guard some more again this year."

Sophomores Alyssa Rusbarsky, Danielle Becker and Nikki Ennis and freshman Gabbi Binder will provide plenty of depth off the bench. Sophomore Cat Condly will add some more when she fully recovers from an injury.

"Ultimately, we have to realize that contending for any type of title is the big picture," Kovac said. "The small picture is that we still have a lot of work to do."