What a difference a year makes.
At least, that’s the collective hope — and expectation — of the Center Grove High School girls basketball team.
Coming off a 9-13 season in which they lost nine of their final 11 games, the Trojans are confident of not only dramatically improving their record but contending for a championship, as well.
“We’ve probably had the best offseason we’ve ever had. It was great,” fourth-year coach Shawn Sanders said. “We’re so far along as far as team chemistry goes. They know their roles pretty well.
“It’s pretty advantageous to have girls who have played together as much as they have.”
All five of last year’s starters are back. The Trojans also return three other letter winners.
The returning starters are 5-foot-4 senior point guard Shelby Shaffer, 5-6 senior guard Lauren Weidman, 5-8 junior forward Madison Kolthoff, 6-foot sophomore forward Regan Wentland and 6-1 sophomore forward Ali Line.
The return of those players, along with junior guards Paige Anderson and Bobbie Clayton and sophomore forward Brianna Gliesmann, have given the Trojans a preparation edge they didn’t have this past season, when they were woefully young and inexperienced.
“Last year at Day 1, we were starting from scratch. (Now) we’ve got a full year of experience,” Sanders said. “In addition to that, they’ve played a lot of games. We’re to the point now, they’ve learned the basics of everything.
“Not only do they know the offense, but they also have the experience of playing in games.”
Although this past season was largely a struggle, it was, from Sanders’ perspective, a valuable learning experience. The Trojans started reasonably well, came a bit unglued down the stretch then narrowly missed a chance to play in the Class 4A sectional final.
Center Grove took a six-game losing streak into the sectional, where it stunned Franklin Central 40-38 in the opener before losing a 36-33 semifinal thriller against eventual champion Greenwood.
“I feel like our team chemistry is our strength,” Sanders said. “Last year it was so hard because they were so young. When you go through something tough together, it kind of brings you together a little bit. They’ve kind of gone through some rocky times with their youth and inexperience.
“As a result, it’s made them kind of stronger and hungrier for this year.”
Center Grove is bidding for its second sectional championship in the past three years. The Trojans open the season Tuesday at Southport.
“Our athleticism and our quickness should make us tough on defense,” Sanders said. “I’m really looking forward to watching them play and seeing what they can do.”