BELLAIRE - When you're in the coaching business for 25 years, there isn't much you're not going to see or experience at some point in your career.
St. John Central girls' basketball coach Bubba Kapral can scratch off an injury-riddled campaign from his list after his team had to overcome a myriad of injuries during the course of the 2011-12 campaign.
Despite losing three key players (Emily Powell, Maclaine Murad and Morgan DeLuca) for extended periods of time due to injuries, the Irish still managed to post a 12-8 record and, considering the circumstances, Kapral was elated with such a mark.
"Last year was a very bizarre season because of the injuries," Kapral said. "When you weather all of the storms we dealt with, including suiting up with just five kids a couple of times, you're never happy with 12-8, but it wasn't bad really."
Now, with a solid mix of veterans and newcomers, the Irish are hoping to continue to make progress as the new campaign opens.
One of the biggest challenges for the Irish will be trying to replace their backcourt and a bulk of their scoring. Gone via graduation are Rosa Young and Haley Decoy, who made up the backcourt much of the past four seasons. Young averaged 15 points a game and was an all-OVAC performer, while DeCoy was a heady player and ran the offense from the point guard spot. Powell also graduated.
Murad transferred to Bridgeport and took her 13 points per game average with her.
"Replacing our top two scorers and our guards are big concerns," Kapral said. "That creates a big void, but hopefully, with the people we have coming in, we'll be able to move some people around and adjust some roles. I think we can be good early, but we're only going to get better and better with more game action and court time. The progress (we've made) since the summer has been significant."
The Irish expect to get back to their usual approach of playing suffocating full-court defense and using that to lead to some easy opportunities on the offensive end.
"We're much more athletic than we've been," Kapral said. "We'll be able to get back to what we used to do that and that's playing baseline to baseline with full-court pressure."
St. John will utilize that approach and go as many as eight deep consistently.
The Irish return three starters from a season ago.
Leading the way is 5-foot-7 senior Kristen Russell, who averaged 10 points per game last season en route to all-district honors.
"Kristen played well last year, and I would be surprised if she's not one of the best players in the valley this year," Kapral said.
Senior Kaydie Coppa (5-6) is a tenacious defender, who led the Irish in steals a season ago. She'll be asked to take on a bigger role in the scoring department.
"Kristen and Kaydie are two of the best leaders we've ever had," Kapral said. "We're gladly hanging our hat on those two. Both are quality players and character kids."
DeLuca was making a varsity impact last season when she went down against Linsly with a torn ACL. She missed 12 games due to the injury, but according to Kapral, she's been cleared and has shown no ill effects from the injury. She'll be in the starting lineup at a forward spot.
Kapral is also high on his six-member freshman class and expects 5-7 point guard Marissa Rose and 6-1 pivot Lindsey Froehlich to be in the starting lineup next week.
"That'll be the first time ever that we've started two freshmen," Kapral said. "At times, we'll play three and four freshmen at one time, so we're excited about that."
Sophomore Caitlin Sliva (5-6) will serve as the Irish sixth girl. She transferred to SJC after spending her freshman season at Union Local, where she didn't play basketball last winter.
Versatile frosh Jessica Alvey (5-6) will be a swing player. She can play on the perimeter or on the interior, according to Kapral.
Junior Molly Knox (5-8) will provide depth off the bench on the interior. She saw action a season ago.
"We're at least eight deep, and I think we've got a couple of other freshmen who will be able to help us down the road," Kapral said.
Also vying for action are sophomore Gabby Santinoceto (5-5), freshmen Emily LeMasters (5-7), Rachel Porter (6-0) and Chloe Roberts (5-8).
"I would like to think that though we're going to be defensive-minded; we've got some girls who can score the basketball with a good mix of guards and Lindsey Froelich can score in the post."