BRIDGEPORT - With six returning lettermen, a talented transfer and a promising freshman, things are looking up for the Bridgeport girls' basketball program.
Third-year coach Rob Zitzelberger has heard all the accolades being tossed his team's way, and he isn't listening to any of them right now.
''Everybody expects us to have a good season, but we have to play together as a team,'' he said. "We're not going to surprise anyone.''
The Bulldogs finished 11-11 last season after knocking off Beallsville in the first round of the Division IV sectional tournament. A loss to River ended the campaign.
''Last year, I think we surprised some teams, but that isn't going to happen this year," Zitzelsberger said. ''We've got a nice nucleus coming back, and we've added two key pieces to the puzzle.''
Back for another season are seniors Kaitlyn Benda (5-7) and Brittany Higgenbotham (5-10). They are both two-year letterwinners.
''Our two seniors are steady players,'' Zitzelberger said. ''They know what is going on and they know the game. However, they also know that they are going to get pushed for their starting positions.''
Benda has scored 183 points in her career. She shoots 32 percent from the field and 24 percent from beyond the 3-point line. She has 194 career rebounds, 48 assists and 41 steals.
Higgenbotham will be counted on for some inside strength. She has pulled down 339 career rebounds and blocked 70 shots. She's also pesky on defense and has been charted for 25 steals.
Also comprising the Bulldogs roster are juniors Nicole Smolenak (5-3), Maclaine Murad (5-4), Ali Baker (5-10), Amber Millard (5-7) and Lauren Oszust (5-4); sophomores Briana Massey (5-8) and Keri Renzler (5-7); and freshman Caitlyn Kroll (5-8).
Zitzelsberger said there is only one player with a starting berth locked up, that being Smolenak who will be starting her third season in the backcourt.
''Nicole is still the engine that makes us go,'' he added. ''She is a true point guard and a true scorer. She surprised some people her freshman year, but didn't surprise anyone last year. She will make us as good as she can.''
Smolenak has scored 691 career points in two seasons, an average of 15.7 per outing. She is a 48 percent shooter from the floor and connects on 32 percent of her shots from behind the 3-point line. In addition, she shoots 67 percent from the foul line and has grabbed 295 rebounds. Also a very good ballhandler, she has dished out 144 assists and charted 158 steals.
Murad transferred to Bridgeport after two fine seasons at St. John Central where she netted 348 points.
''Maclaine is a really nice fit for us,'' Zitzelsberger said. ''She has nice skills and comes from a tremendous program at St. John.''
Baker is the tallest of the Bulldogs and will be counted upon to give some valuable minutes in the middle.
''Ali has a nice touch inside for a big girl,'' Zitzelsberger added. ''She will be in the mix.''
Millard saw some playing time as a sophomore, scoring 19 points and pulling down 15 rebounds.
''Amber is a hard worker and will be splitting some time with the jayvee team,'' the coach said.
Oszust is another transfer from St. John Central.
''Lauren is another hard worker who is learning the system,'' Zitzelsberger said.
Massey is probably the most improved player on the team, according to the coach. Massey grabbed 151 rebounds as a freshman, while scoring 57 points. Renzler netted 72 points and grabbed 76 rebounds a season ago. She also recorded 15 steals and 10 assists.
The Bulldogs biggest strength is their depth.
''We've got 8 or 9 girls that can get up and down the court,'' Zitzelberger said. ''We're going to try and run up and down the court on offense and play a very tenacious defense.''