After winning three straight South Central Conference crowns, Clarke head coach Eric Zoske has one thing on his mind — winning a fourth straight.
The second year head coach knows it will be no easy task with the firepower lost from last year's 18-5 team, but he's also counting on other teams to underestimate the Lady Indians.
"We've won it three years in a row, two outright and one with a share, so you know teams are saying 'Clarke's not going to be good this year,'" he said. "That fuels my fire, because I do feel we have a good team. It excites me that people think we're not going to be good this year."
Despite losing nearly 62 percent of last year's scoring production to graduation, Zoske returns a solid nucleus of players to build this year's team around in seniors Libby Bemis, Devon Carson and Carley Robins.
Bemis averaged 7.0 points per game last year, while Robins added 6.5 points and Carson netted 5.5 points per game. Bemis also led the team with 50 assists and was second on the team in rebounding with 4.6 per game.
"These younger girls are fortunate to play with Devon, Carley and Libby," Zoske said. "If you ask me, we have the best all-around player in the conference in Libby. She's a good one to build around. At the same time, whenever we play someone, Libby's going to be on the scouting report that they need to shut her down."
Zoske said he doesn't need Bemis to score all the points, but needs her to be efficient on offense.
"The ball needs to go through her and she needs to have assists and take good shots," Zoske said. "She's going to need to be really smart this year. Last year, she was number four on the scouting report. This year, she'll be number one. It will be a big adjustment for her."
Sophomores Maddi Heath and Baylie Balcaen have both shown improvement from last year and also provide varsity experience from last year.
"Maddi has gotten so much better since last year," Zoske said. "Baylie, she's getting much better each day, too. She's undersized, but she's as tough as anybody. She just needs to get a little bit smarter, stay out of foul trouble. She's physical, strong and now it's just putting together the whole package."
During early practices, Zoske has been trying to mesh the returning players with a host of new faces who could help the Lady Indians this year.
"We have a lot of girls who don't have varsity experience," he said. "We have seven seniors and only three have played varsity basketball. It's a slow process, but at the same time, it's a good process."
Three freshmen who could make an impact for the Lady Indians are Sydnee Redman, Vanessa Bakley and Lexy Carson.
"Not a bad little core of five to six girls that we have in underclassmen," Zoske said. "Syd's probably one of our better ballhandlers. You look at Vanessa, she's quick. She's one of the quickest defenders that we have. Then Lexy Carson, she's one of the smartest freshmen I've seen. You add those three talents and you can kind of build around that. You have a dribbler, a defender and a smart player, you can build around that."
The Lady Indians open the season Friday at home against Earlham.