By JOHN VITALE
There are many reasons for Christen Ditzler to be excited about the Lycoming women's basketball team this season.
With an infusion of youth - along with three returning starters from last year's playoff squad - there's an air of optimism surrounding the program.
Sure the team has lost three of its first four games, but even with an 0-5 start a season ago the Warriors still made their first conference playoffs in school history. And that's a goal Ditzler is focused on expanding upon with her current squad.
Now obviously losses are never the goal, but the non-conference hurdles Ditzler challenges her team with at the start of each year are definitely by design.
"It's a springboard," Ditzler said. "It prepares us for our conference which is so strong."
The conference perennially sends two or three teams to the NCAA Division-III tournament, according to Ditzler, and the NCAA tournament is exactly what she has her sights set on this season.
"Our goal is to have a winning record, make it to playoffs and make it to championships," Ditzler said.
Through recruiting and player development, she feels her roster is more "solidified" than it was last season. She's especially excited about her two freshmen point guards, Nicole Calella and Rachel Miller.
"They're really good leaders on the floor," Ditzler said. "Once they learn the system they're going to be great players."
Also providing some excitement and leadership for the Warriors is the squad's lone returning starter from last year, Julia Antonelli. Through four games the senior first-team all-conference forward is averaging 17.3 points and 9.3 boards per game.
Despite Antonelli's impressive play, the team has struggled with just one win through four games, including a 20-point loss Tuesday night against the same Elizabethtown team that knocked the Warriors out of last year's playoffs.
But slow starts really are nothing new for Lycoming.
After a winless record through five games last season, the Warriors rebounded with eight conference wins which was enough to earn a berth in the Commonwealth Conference tournament for the first time since joining the league 13 seasons ago.
And even though her team was predicted to finish sixth in the conference's preseason poll, Ditzler is expecting her team to surprise the conference once again with four of its top six top scorers returning from last year.
Of course there are some areas she knows her team must improve upon. Perimeter shooting is an issue and a lack of depth in the frontcourt is also a concern considering the up-tempo style of play the Warriors want to run.
The team wants to push the ball and play some full-court press on defense due to the recent incorporation of the 10-second backcourt rule in the women's game this season.
The rule change is something Ditzler is hoping her team can capitalize on, but while she wants the team to play fast she realizes there are some obstacles her team will have to overcome.
"It's a double edge sword playing up-tempo," she said. "We're not too deep in the post so we've got to be careful about fouling.
Assuming the young backcourt can develop quickly and Antonelli can continue her impressive play, there's no reason to believe the Warriors cannot duplicate last year's success with another run into the conference tournament.
It will undoubtedly be an uphill battle, but it's a battle the coach certainly feels her team is ready for.
"There are some good teams in this league, but we're not just looking to compete," she said. "We want to go out and beat some of them."