On paper it appeared the Beaver Area High School girls' basketball team would be in store for a "rebuilding year" this season.
Five seniors graduated from last year's team and only one starter returned this season.
Luckily for the Bobcats, games are not played on paper.
Beaver swept the first half of its section schedule, then started the second half by routing Northgate, 46-16, last Thursday, then defeating Freedom Area, 51-39, Monday giving them an overall record of 13-1 and 8-0 in Class AA Section 6. That impressive record comes in large part thanks to a relentless defense.
"We work hard on our defense," Beaver Area coach Greg Huston said. "We spend at least a half hour to 45 minutes a practice working on our defense. It has paid off. I am really proud of that defensive effort."
Before every game the defense has a goal to hold an opponent to a score in the 20s.
They have done so against Rochester (22), Freedom (29), Carlynton (27), Burgettstown (22), Sto-Rox (23), Avonworth (20) and Quigley Catholic (27). They went above and beyond that goal against New Brighton (17) and Northgate twice (15 and 16). Overall Beaver is allowing an average of just 26 points per game, the best mark in the WPIAL, regardless of classification
"The credit goes to the girls," Huston said. "They bust their tails in practice and now we have them seeing they might be able to do something special if they keep playing defense like that. In my opinion defense is not all about talent, it is about work."
Playing in Class AAA the previous two seasons, Beaver went a combined 21-23. Now back in Class AA, the Bobcats are picking up right where they left off when they last competed in the classification during the 2009-10 season. During that season, Beaver won an outright section title, going 11-1 in Class AA Section 2 and reached the WPIAL semifinals.
With the way Beaver is playing defense, another outright section title and deep postseason run are definite possibilities.
"If anyone told me at the beginning of the year we would be 12-1 after 13 games, I'd take it," Huston said. "Everyone is taking turns stepping up. It has kind of been a whole new lineup this season."
Senior center Eleanor Neeley is the team's lone returning starter. The other starters are senior guard Steph Trbovich, sophomore point guard Lexi Posset, freshman guard Jen Kondracki and sophomore forward Ruthe Neeley, Eleanor's sister.
Posset saw significant playing time off the bench last season. She is the leading scorer on the team, averaging about 19 points per game.
"Eleanor Neeley has been our leader and heart and soul of this team," Huston said. "Along with Lexi, those two have carried us, and we will ride them as far as they can take us.
"We were in Triple-A last year. . We didn't want to throw Lexi to the wolves, so we brought her off the bench. She did a nice job, her talent was evident. She has really blossomed this year.
"All the credit goes to her, she is a gym rat -- she goes and works out after our practice. She puts the time in and it is paying off for her."
Posset nearly single-handedly outscored Carlynton in a game this season. She scored a game-high 26 points in a 36-27 win. Eleanor Neeley is second on the team, averaging 11.5 points per game. She also leads the team with seven rebounds per game.
"From a hustle standpoint, Eleanor and Ruthe are similar players," Huston said. "They play the same way -- they are lock-down defenders and they are quick."
The Bobcats don't play again until Saturday when they take on a major challenge in a non-section game. They will entertain Central Valley, which is 14-2 overall competing in Class AAA Section 2.