WHEELING - If the Wheeling Jesuit women didn't lift some eyebrows with a season-opening victory against Slippery Rock, they most certainly did days earlier when they took Division I Ohio University to overtime before suffering a 76-74 setback.
Cardinals coach Debbie Buff promised her team, coming off a five-victory season that ended without a large percentage of the roster, would be better, even if the remaining coaches in the West Virginia Conference had their doubts.
Wheeling Jesuit was picked 12th in the league's preseason coaches poll.
''I don't really put stock into preseason rankings,'' Buff said. ''I didn't even tell the team where we were. I always say it only matters where you are at the end.''
Buff's roster is chock full of young talent, as she and assistant Kyle Cooper restocked with nine new faces. It's a prospect that has had Buff smiling from Day 1.
''Right now, what I'm excited about is just the potential of some of our underclassmen,'' she said. ''I think the biggest thing is how quickly they can adapt to a pretty complex system. We do run a lot of different things. Right now the learning curve is pretty wide.''
That opening 59-56 victory against Slippery Rock may have narrowed that curve a bit.
The Cardinals graduated one senior in Cassy Sanderson and have none on the roster.
Emily Robinson, a member of last season's all-WVC Freshman Team, is the leader among returnees, having scored 13.1 points per game, while handing out four assists and pulling down three rebounds per game. She started all 27 games and shot better than 70 percent from the free-throw line.
''Emily was battle-tested last year,'' Buff said.
Other upperclassmen are Alex Anderson, Taneka Lewis, Farryn Jones, Lucy DeFruscio, and Kelsey Pacholke.
Anderson got bigger and stronger during the offseason, Buff reports. Anderson started six games and averaged 17.3 minutes and 3.5 points.
DeFruscio, the daughter of former WJU men's coach Jay DeFruscio, averaged 8.9 points while starting 26 games in 2011-12.
Lewis started 21 games and averaged 7.4 points per game.
Pacholke picked up a double-double in the opener, with a 18 points and 13 rebounds. She was 8-for-12 from the floor and added a 2-for-3 showing at the foul line.
''The players that played last year are really developing into really good leaders,'' Buff said. ''And I think our team depth is going to be exciting.''
Everyone else - Jaila Bryant, Jamie Sobczak, Breanna Butler, Delani Stopp, Julan Brown, Wheeling Park's Krista Crawshaw, Rachel Smetlzerk, Bellaire's Katie Fry, and Taylor Lubinsky - is new.
''Freshmen are freshmen,'' Buff said. ''We're seeing that in practice. One day we look real good, the next day we look like ... freshmen.''
Buff said the starting lineup will continually change based on the opponent, and the Cards showed Slippery Rock why that won't matter much, anyway.
Forty-five of the team's 59 points came off the bench.
''I think it's good,'' Buff said. ''It shows that people have compete every day. I've never had a team that's this deep. I've always been someone that rotates seven or eight, so it's kinda different for me. Sometimes in practice, it gets difficult because you want to give your top eight kids the reps, but I think the practices are more competitive - more what I'm used to.''