There are many goals for this season being set by the Mars Area High School girls basketball team.
With a sophomore-dominated roster the most important goal for coach Tony Howard is for his team to improve every game.
It's what the Planets did last year when they regrouped from a 1-8 start to win nine of their last 12 games and make the WPIAL playoffs and it's what they hope to do this season.
"It is always an internal goal to make the playoffs, but we are still really young," Howard said. "We want to get better every day. That was our philosophy last year.
"These girls play hard, they play every minute of the game until the end. Hopefully by January, we will have a chance to play for the section title."
Mars went 9-1 in Section 1-AAA to share the section title with Hampton last season. Mars lost, 38-34, at Hampton early in the season but edged the Talbots, 48-46, in the rematch to ensure a share of the section title.
Mars played in 12 games last season decided by single digits. Howard is expecting more of the same this season.
"We won a lot of close games last year," Howard said. "We are not a team that is going to blow everyone out by 20 points."
The Planets got off to a rocky start, losing, 66-25, to highly touted Blackhawk in the Cougars' tipoff tournament. They rebounded the next night to defeat Conneaut, 40-32, then dropped a close 47-44 decision to Keystone Oaks on Monday.
Mars is relying on four sophomores, including forward Ali Goetz. Last season Goetz averaged 13 points per game and was named to the all-section team. After primarily playing on the inside last season, Goetz expanded her game in the offseason.
"Her strength is rebounding. Last year she was inside a lot and got to the foul line but this year she has really improved her perimeter ball skills, she is making 3-pointers" Howard said. "Ali is probably going to start as our 'five' but I told her the other day, she is going to play [positions] one through five. We are going to move her around based on matchups."
Goetz and senior guard Teresa Dallatore are the team's two returning starters. The other starters are sophomore point guard Sarah Getsey, sophomore guard Jessica Bunner and senior guard Alyssa Matthews.
Getsey, Bunner and Matthews all saw starting time at some point last seaosn.
"We are going to be a smaller group," Howard said. "We are going to have to play the game fast and get the game going up and down. We are going to play full court and spread everyone out."
Mars will open section play at home against Valley tonight. Its two games against Hampton will likely have major playoff implications. The teams meet first at Hampton on Jan. 7 and again at Mars on Jan. 31.
Last season all three Section 1-AAA teams struggled in the playoffs. Mars, Hampton and Knoch all lost in the first round. Mars lost to South Fayette, 35-28.
Howard expects a much stronger section this year.
"I think it is going to be very competitive," Howard said. "We didn't do real well in the playoffs last year but I think the section will be a lot better than people think. Hampton is really good, Freeport is going to be a wild card with their athletes and size and Valley has a lot of girls back."