You'd think the head coach of a team that lost four starters, who accounted for 49 of his squad's average of 62 points per game, would be a little apprehensive about beginning the 2004 season.
That is not the case with Thayer Lady Bobcat Head Coach Steve Atkisson.
"I think we'll be better than people think this year," he said. "A lot of people don't realize that the kids we have coming back this year went toe-to-toe in practice with our starters, who won 88 games in four years. I like being in this situation. People might tend to overlook you when you start back from square one."
The Lady Cats were most definitely not overlooked the past few seasons as they rolled to three straight Class 2 District 9 titles, along with trips to the state tourney, the past three years behind the play of South Central Association MVP Megan Underwood.
Underwood, who finished her career at Thayer as the school's all-time leading scorer, helped the Lady Bobcats to a 26-2 mark last year. Thayer's season ended with a 45-39 loss to Blue Eye in the state sectionals.
But Underwood was not the only cog that Atkisson, last year's SCA Coach of the Year, lost from last year's machine.
Summer Jones, a second team All-SCA honoree, and honorable mention Sarah Caldwell, along with Christa Cox, Sarah Prewitt and Kylee McAlmond, will all be missing from Thayer's lineup due to graduation.
"It can be tough when you graduate six out of the eight kids that played a lot," Atkisson said. "But I think we'll have eight kids that can play this year."
Thayer's lone returning starter is junior Lashanda Horton, who brings a nine-point, 2.9-assist and four-rebound average into the new year.
"She's really athletic," said Atkisson. "She can create her own shot. She's ready to step up."
Junior Brittany Allen, "a good 3-point shooter," according to Atkisson, will see an expanded role for Thayer this year, as will senior Tasha Wrenfrow who led Thayer's JV squad in scoring the last couple of years. "Tasha's strong in the paint," Atkisson said.
Another big presence in the lane, senior Valerie Dixon, should help to provide the Lady Cats with a good balance of inside-out play.
A three-year starter at the point guard slot for the Lady Cats' JV troops, senior Tiffany Poulette will be counted on to run this edition of the Lady Bobcats. "She's really worked hard on defense," Atkisson said. "Tiffany's a good team leader."
Thayer's most physical player looks to be junior Heather Coffel. "She's a good rebounder," said Atkisson. "She is probably our strongest player. She picks up a lot of trash around the hoop for us."
Freshman Krista Adams, a point guard, will also see significant time this year, as will Autumn Forschler, who will rotate with Dixon and Coffel inside for Thayer.
Thayer might have a bit of a different offensive attack this year, favoring an up-tempo game revolving off a full-court press.
"We want to score in transition," Atkisson said. "I think we'll have pretty balanced scoring by going up-tempo. We've been working hard at getting up and down the court."
The key to success this season for Atkisson's (343-202 record at Thayer) 23rd edition of the Lady Bobcats will be how quickly they can evolve into a true team, stepping out of the shadows of last year's highly-talented senior group.
"Our kids will have to grow up in a hurry this year," said Atkisson. "I really feel like we've got a bunch of kids that can play."