It was a new year with a new coach but he cannot be called a newcomer any more.
"I think it was a learning experience for both me–being the first year coaching high school, and them getting used to someone coming from a different level," coach Marc Lowe said of his first year with the Illinois Valley Central girls basketball team. "It was an adjustment for both. It's good, though, that a lot of them are coming back and now know what I expect."
The team's season came to an end Feb. 11 with a 39-29 loss to Geneseo in the Dunlap Regional.
"We had a slide there where we started losing and so they just started losing a bit of their confidence," Lowe said. "I'm very pleased with how we played though, down the stretch and in the Regional game."
Throughout the season, the teams went on scoring droughts and defensive lapses as the girls tried to adjust to a new style of play.
"The No. 1 improvement we have to make is on fundamentals," Lowe said. "Number two is communication and three is chemistry. We have so many kids returning that hopefully we will still have good chemistry. The girls have to put the time in over the summer to make those improvements. That's where you build your team, in the offseason."
The team's best stretch came when the girls put up the first back-to-back win streak since Jan. 2011 when the Lady Ghosts beat Roanoke-Benson, 52-51 at home and Abingdon, 48-30, at home Dec. 6.
The team suffered one of the biggest losses of the year when senior Anna Parr was sidelined in late December to an ACL/MCL injury.
Despite the loss of Parr, the senior class of Brooke Rudolph, Bria Kohlman, Brenna Garner and Sarah Lawson stepped up and gave the Ghosts a chance to win every time they stepped on the court.
"I think they were all leaders for us," Lowe said. "Brooke was a vocal leader at practice and understood what I wanted the team to be doing. She got the girls through the stretching and made sure they did their shooting exercises. She was very vocal in practice. When we needed someone to step up, she did that.
"Sarah and Brenna were also leaders in many ways," Lowe said. "They always came and practiced hard."
For the other two seniors, it was a year of improvement and heartbreak.
"Bria really stepped up as the year went along," Lowe said. "From day one she was excited that I was there, and I think she really learned a lot. It showed as the season went on. She was one I could count on to step up.
Page 2 of 2 - "Anna was a leader because the kids looked up to her and she had played with me for a summer. Then she ended up getting hurt. If she had stayed healthy, I know she would have been a vital part. I feel bad for her. That's a tough way to end your senior year."
After a year with a small team, Lowe said next year will be similar.
"We are going to have to change a few things, which they will have to get acclimated to," Lowe said. "A lot of high schools keep to one system and keep that going. We can't do that. We will run some of the same things and some of the things that we did will have to change because of our height.
"We really only have three post players returning. We have a lot of guards and our sophomore team was really small."
To be successful with the smaller team, Lowe said the girls will need to work on specific areas.
"I think conditioning will be a factor because we are going to be a running team again," Lowe said. "Next year we are much smaller so we are going to run and press a lot. They will have to get in the gym and come to camp. The offseason workouts will be a big factor."
For year two, Lowe said he has certain goals in mind for the Ghosts.
"I want us to be more fundamentally sound and be more aggressive," Lowe said. "The team bonding again will be important because we are going to be giving different looks again. I'm not scared to say it, we will probably shoot more threes than we have. We will still play inside out but we are going to shoot more threes and extend out a little more than we did last season."