Tony Thomas is following the blueprints he laid out for what is his first season with the Northern Lehigh girls' basketball team.

Thomas, taking over for Dave Oertner, who stepped down after last season, is forced to deal with some rebuilding within the program.

Last year's Colonial League Most Valuable Player Aimee Oertner and Tina Bastardi, who earned All-League Honorable Mention, both graduated. Oertner (United States Military Academy) and Bastardi (Misericordia) have taken their basketball skills to the collegiate level.

Thomas has his sight set on renovating the program with the players returning from last year's squad, which finished 12-12 overall (7-9 in the Colonial League) and qualified for districts, along with newcomers and a talented incoming freshmen class.

"It's tough right now because we're building a foundation," Thomas said. "I'm starting at the ground up trying to build the confidence of the girls allowing them to shoot, to go through the transitions and learn the game of basketball all over again."

Thomas and his coaching staff find themselves working with the likes of lone senior Autumn Stauffer, juniors Kelsey Follweiler, Rachel Hams, Annelise Tarafas, and Shannon Weil and sophomore Emily Bevans and Jess Olewine, who all return with plenty of varsity minutes under their belt.

Follweiler and Hams saw action in all 24 games, while Weil and Olewine played in 23.

Thomas has his hands full building those individuals into believers on the competitive courts, however, especially when it comes to scoring the necessary points.

Oertner (18.50 ppg) and Bastardi (10.75 ppg) alone accounted for 69 percent of the Bulldogs' 1,011 points a year ago.

In fact, in 23 of the Bulldogs' 24 games, Oertner hit for double figures and Bastardi was able to do so in 13 of the 24 she played.

No one else on the squad even came close to accomplishing that feat. Hams (3.83 ppg) hit double digits twice, while Follweiler (3.46 ppg) and Weil (2.35 ppg) did once.

"Even though we have varsity players that played last season returning, because they had that go-to player, they relied solely on Oertner and Bastardi," Thomas said. "Now, they have to learn they have to rely on themselves. They don't have Amy to pass it to anymore or look to Tina to get them out of a jam. They have to rely on each other."

While building that confidence to become shooters may take some time, Thomas is more than happy about the gradual process that he sees going on now. In fact, he pointed out their work ethic as the strength of the program right now.

"They're willing to try what we're asking of them to do," Thomas said. "This group is really working hard. They ask questions. They're thriving for that burst of tell us what it's going to take to make us be successful.

"We're going to be competitive because of that. Not necessarily by wins or losses, but by that work ethic on the floor. We're not going to go into the lockerroom at the end of the game where we didn't give it our best."

While this year may be a work in progress, Thomas has full intentions of doing his best to live up to the tradition of the program.

"We're going to try to keep everything going that Coach (Dave) Oertner started here," Thomas said. "Obviously, he had some help from his players, but we're going to try and keep that tradition going.

"It may take a year to get it off the ground, but we will be competitive."