Stacey VanDerSloot's team has something it didn't have a whole lot of last year.
"We're much deeper and more experienced," said the 10th-year Storm Lake High girls basketball coach, whose team opens the season at home tonight against Denison-Schleswig, with the JV/Varsity doubleheader beginning at 6:30. "The kids off the bench this year have experience, whereas last year three freshmen (Slone Masters, Cassie Meylor and Jordan Bauer) played huge minutes. As sophomores they'll take a more mature role.
"When we need to give starters a rest, they'll pick off where those kids left off, and that will make a big difference. It's a positive thing for our team."
Four starters - senior Amber Woodford, Masters, Meylor and senior Amanda Proczak - return from a Tornadoes club that went 4-18 last year while finishing last in the Lakes Conference at 1-15.
Masters, a 5-foot-10 point guard who can also play a forward spot, is the team's top returnee with averages of 10.2 points and 7.6 rebounds.
Woodford, an off guard, put up 7.7 points and 4.4 boards; Proczak, a center, went for 8.6 ppg and 4.8 rpg; and Meylor, also a center, hit for 6.5 ppg and 5.7 rpg.
Other returning letterwinners are senior guard Maleia Miller, senior forward Amy Kessler and Bauer, a guard.
Kessler and Courtney Lovetinsky should provide a strong post punch off the bench, giving VanDerSloot a four-headed monster of sorts down low to assure rested post players and prevent foul trouble.
Height-wise, SL tops out at Meylor's 5-11. Proczak and Lovetinsky (both 5-10) and Blum (5-9) also give the Tornadoes some height along with Masters.
Miller, Blum and senior Kyrie Butler should figure into the mix at guard spots off the bench.
Woodford, Masters, Bauer and Miller are the team's deadliest downtown sniping threats.
"Hopefully we can put some presses on this year," VanDerSloot said. "We've got quick guards. Miller and Butler are very quick."
So far, VanDerSloot is happy with the leadership her five seniors (Butler, Miller, Woodford, Kessler and Proczak) are demonstrating.
"(That), and the fact that we have established post players and our guard quickness is going to be huge for us," she said.
Meanwhile, Storm Lake needs to get in better shape, improve its defense and transition game, and just know where to be at the right time, the coach said.
"They need to sprint back and get in position," she said. "We're out of position and foul. We can't put teams on the free-throw line if we want to win close games. Last year we improved so much by the end - we want to pick up where we left off and just continue to get those sophomores experience."
Bauer, Masters, Blum and Meylor comprise a sophomore core VanDerSloot called the most talented in her 10 years at the helm.
VanDerSloot figures Class 3A preseason No. 4-ranked Spencer will win the Lakes this year, and possibly the state title.
"They have everyone back, seven seniors. They have the whole kit and caboodle," she said. "I think they're gonna be in that state championship game this year."
Class 3A No. 6 Spirit Lake and 2A No. 9 Hull Western Christian are widely considered the loop's other favorites.
But don't count the Tornadoes out already.
Said VanDerSloot: "There's no reason why we can't be conference champions, district champions. But that takes a lot of hard work. It's gonna be team unity and team defense ... this year we have both posts and (outside shooting threats), but it's gonna be whether the post players dominate and we hit the 3s on the same night."