The hopes are high for the Lycoming women's basketball team as a quality group of returners, featuring All-conference selection Julia Antonelli and standout point guard Rachel Scheller, attempt to get Lycoming to the postseason.
"Team goals are always to improve upon the past year and improve every game we play throughout the season," Lycoming coach Christen Ditzler said. "We're picked to finish fifth and that's a playoff spot. We'd like to get to playoffs, it's a place we haven't been for a long time."
The last time the Warriors reached postseason play was in 2000, and if the team hopes to end the drought, it's going to take a mighty big effort with nationally-ranked Lebanon Valley (10) and Messiah (13) slated for two games apiece against the Warriors.
"One of my personal goals is to beat Lebanon Valley at Lebanon Valley," Scheller said with a laugh.
But don't think that laugh didn't mean she wasn't serious. Scheller posted 11 points to lead the team last year at Lebanon Valley. Antonelli led the team with nine rebounds.
Scheller's goal of defeating Lebanon Valley on its home court is a lofty one, especially against the No. 10 ranked Division III team in the country. But, if the Warriors were able to pull off the win it would likely send the season to a positive conclusion.
"I think we can take the next step and become a legitimate contender for one of those spots," Ditzler said of the postseason. "One of the keys to it is getting everybody back and healthy."
The Warriors haven't had the type of preseason they wanted, though. Antonelli, the team's leading scorer and all-conference selection joined the team last week after an injury kept her from full participation.
Also, Ali Derr, a valuable contributor last season as a freshman, hurt her ankle in the offseason.
"We've been behind the 8-ball a bit in terms of player personnel," Ditzler said. "We need to first get them involved and then keep them healthy and continue to build."
At the top of the list of players to keep healthy is Antonelli.
"Obviously we'd like to improve from last year and make the postseason," Antonelli said. "I'd love to see our team and chemistry do great things this year."
On her way to earning all-conference honors, Antonelli led the team with 270 points, averaging 11.3 per contest. Antonelli also let the team with 173 rebounds.
"For Julia (Antonelli) her primary role is going to be a scorer and help us rebound, even more than she did last year," Ditzler said. "We're going to really rely on her for an inside presence."
And Lycoming's going to need an inside game against the top team in the Commonwealth Conference.
"The forwards are going to have to do their jobs," Ditzler said. "They are going to have to rebound and score points from the inside and they're going to have to defend."
Lycoming was a combined 0-6 against the top three finishers in the Commonwealth and ended the season on a four-game losing streak.
"I want us to improve on our overall record from last year," Scheller said of her goals heading into the season. "Last year we had a lot of games where we lost in overtime or by one or two points. We need to win the close games."
And that's the beauty of sports. Each season ushers in a new chance. And Lycoming should be improved with a tough group of freshmen and a seasoned group of returners.
Of the nine returning players, eight saw significant playing time last year.
"We made Julia (Antonelli) a captain this year with Rachel Scheller and Leeann (Randall)," Ditzler said. "They all bring something different to the table which is good. They are certainly bringing senior leadership and leaving it on the court."
"It's crazy how fast it's come," Antonelli said. "I feel like I was just a freshman and now I'm telling the younger girls things I did. You don't realize how much you've learned."