Panthers first-year coach Herb Besaw has his work cut out for him.
Does he ever.
Gone are five starters and all but one of the key components of the most successful St. Mary's girls basketball team in school history.
Last year's Panthers - playing for coach Ryan Berg in what would be his final season - went 20-5 overall for the most wins in school history and 12-2 to tie Newell-Fonda for the Northwest Conference crown.
It was the program's first ever league title. The Panthers were CYO champs for the third straight year, district champs and ranked as high as 13th in 1A, their first ever state ranking. They also put together the school's longest winning streak at 15 games.
The team was led by area standouts Abby Richardson and Janie Imming, and also included key role players Jess Lussman, Becky Lenhart and Emily Lenhart.
Rylee Paterson is the only returning Panther with varsity experience. The team has just 10 total players.
The Panthers are Merriam-Webster's truest definition of the word "rebuilding."
Still, said Besaw, the girls are working hard and showing signs of being competitive.
"As first-year coach I'm excited about bringing in a new philosophy, rebuilding a program and continuing the success Ryan Berg had along with the (graduating seniors) and what they brought to St. Mary's girls basketball," Besaw said. "How we can handle the speed of the game and our ability not to lose our composure (will be key). Our success will be the presence of low post - we will have good size and be most experienced inside.
"The perimeter play will determine how we will improve as a team and our ability to be competitive. We will be very young and inexperienced in these positions."
Besaw expects Paterson and Jen Dimig to anchor the low post on offense and defense.
Anyssa Lenhart, a freshman, is showing good scoring and rebounding ability, he said.
"Melanie Snyder, Emily Mohr and Cayla Egesdal will be key for us as they gain more experience on the perimeter and gain confidence as the season progresses," he added. "With Jenny Welch, Katie Wilson, Caitlyn White and Olvido Garcia ... all will provide depth to our team and provide us with flexibility."
In terms of strengths, Besaw mentioned Paterson's leadership and versatility, Dimig's low-post presence, and the speed and quickness Lenhart and Snyder possess.
At the same time, St. Mary's must improve its perimeter play, understand the speed of the game, play within the game itself and not try to force things.
Besaw has four goals for his team: outrebound the competition, shoot a high percentage from the charity stripe, finish right behind the top three in the league and be more competitive as the year progresses.
According to Besaw, Newell-Fonda - given its depth and returning starters - will be the strength of the Northwest Conference.
"Schaller-Crestland and Alta will challenge for the title with their returning starters and overall depth," he added. "Sioux Central will be a strong team with their ability to play on (both ends of the court), with St. Mary's, Laurens-Marathon, Pomeroy-Palmer and Aurelia rounding out the conference."
The Panthers open the season next Tuesday at 1A preseason No. 13-ranked Newell-Fonda at 6:30 p.m., with the boys game to follow.