At the first day of open gyms this summer, South Park girls basketball coach Reggie Wells was greeted by large participation and a lot of excitement.
A long postseason run a year ago that ended with WPIAL and PIAA titles did nothing to dim the excitement of summer open gyms.
"They were really enthusiastic about getting out there," Wells said. "I didn't even have to say anything. They know if they work hard enough, they have an opportunity to be in the mix again. I think last year really just gave them so much more confidence. They know if they play hard, they can play with anyone."
Experience, talent and confidence are three qualities on every coach's wish list.
The Eagles appear to be a title contender again. After winning 28 of 30 games last season, South Park opened the season with a three-point loss to Class AAAA Hempfield in the Bethel Park tournament. The Eagles bounced back to win, 70-40, against Thomas Jefferson and, 67-59, at Central Valley.
The No. 2-ranked Eagles (4-1, 2-0) opened section play with a convincing 69-33 win over a South Fayette team that was playing without two of its starters and with a 63-36 win at Keystone Oaks on Monday night.
"It's good anytime you get into the section and get a win," Wells said. "If you don't take care of business in the section, the other games don't matter."
South Park must replace guard Shelby Lindsay and center Breanna Raymond from last season's team. Lindsay was a two-time all-state selection who is now playing at Army. She was the primary ballhandler for South Park the past two seasons. She scored 1,620 career points and averaged 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists per game last season. At 6-foot Raymond was a force inside.
"We are just trying to make the adjustment with Shelby and Breanna [gone]," Wells said. "Shelby handled the ball most of the time and when Breanna Raymond got healthy, she was really dominant inside."
There is plenty of talent waiting in the wings with returning starters senior guards Lindsey Noss and Amanda Quinn, senior forwards Halie Torris, junior forward Samantha Miller and sophomore forward Allison McGrath. Torris, Miller and McGrath give South Park one of the top front courts in the WPIAL. Torris averaged 15.4 points per game last season.
"They are showing me that they are willing to compete," Wells said. "Some of the girls had a lack of confidence and they are trying to fill those different spots and they are getting that experience."
Replacing Lindsay in terms of her ballhandling ability will be done by committee.
"It is not just going to be one particular person taking the burden," Wells said. "Our guards all handle the ball pretty well."
Torris and McGrath were the second and third leading scorers on the team last season behind Lindsay. Wells anticipates the duo to lead the team in scoring again.
"Halie is awesome, she is a bona fide shooter," Wells said. "But she does so many other things well. She is an excellent passer and when she wants she can be a dominant rebounder. With Halie Torris and Allison McGrath, to me personally, they both should have been all-state."
South Park will resume section play tonight at home against Quaker Valley. They will be tested over the holiday break with a non-section home contest against Seton-LaSalle on Monday and the Eagles will participate in the North Allegheny holiday tournament beginning Dec. 27 when they play Penn-Trafford.
"I think we are right in the mix with everyone else [in the section]," Wells said. "I think it is going to be touch and go. Anybody can beat anybody. I think the level of play really went up in our section."