After a two-year absence from postseason play, the Northwestern girls basketball team plans to return this year.
The Lady Tigers came within a couple games of making districts last year. With all of their key players returning, the program's rebuilding process could reach completion this season.
"Our goal this year is to qualify for the Colonial League and district playoffs," said ninth-year head coach Chris Deutsch. "There's nobody we cannot play with. There were games in the last two years where we just didn't have the firepower. This year we have the personnel. We can play with anybody in the Colonial League."
Northwestern graduated four seniors, but five players return that started in many of the team's game last year. Among the returning players is Second Team All League guard Sara Jones, a junior who has led the team in scoring the past two seasons and averaged 13.5 points per game last season.
After playing mostly point guard last year, Jones will likely move to her natural shooting guard spot this year.
Also coming back are senior forward Caileigh Landrigan, junior forward Kaleen Suter and sophomore center Trista Cunningham, who joined the starting line up in late December of last year.
"We were 0-5 when we decided to initiate her into the starting line up and we started winning games," Deutsch said.
Landrigan and Suter both played in all 22 games last year. Suter was the team's second-leading scorer at 8.3 points per game.
Several other returning varsity players will contribute this season, including seniors Emma Kemmerer (guard), Jen Nemes (guard), Sam MacLaughlin (guard), Taylor Dietrich (forward) and Jess Albright (center); junior Abigail Heydlauf (forward); and sophomore Cheyenne Shupp (guard).
Kemmerer and MacLaughlin both played in 21 of the team's games last season.
Newcomers to the varsity team include junior guard Alex Lerner, sophomore forward Erynn Day and freshman guards Sabrina Mertz and Sara Segan.
Through the first two weeks of practice Deutsch was still looking for his starting point guard and the two freshmen were strong candidates for the job.
"They both can play," Deutsch said. "They can handle the ball very well."
With a large varsity roster (15 players), Northwestern will have a lot of versatility. Anyone could be asked to step in and help on a given night.
"What we have on this year's team is a lot of depth," Deutsch said. "It's going to be hard to get everyone playing time. We can go 12 or 13 deep. All the girls have certain roles, certain things they do a good job of."
After an 0-5 start to the 2010-11 season, Northwestern rebounded, turning its league record from 0-3 to 5-5. But back-to-back losses to Notre Dame (Green Pond) and Pen Argyl all but sealed the team's fate. Finishing 7-15 overall, but 6-10 in league play, two wins away from a district playoff berth, Northwestern is ready to pick up where it left off last year.
"The girls have gone through some tough times the last couple years," said Deutsch. "To their credit, especially the seniors, they've stuck it out. These girls keep coming back. They're fighters and competitors. It shows true character. It makes me feel good as a coach."