A brand new ballgame for Eagles
When we last saw the New Life Academy girls basketball team, the Eagles were bowing out of their second-straight Class A State Tournament appearance in an opening round loss to Cedar Mountain-Comfrey.
The defeat, deemed an upset by many, brought an end to the high school of five key members of that squad -- including 1,000-point scorers Jenny Ramey and Danielle Schmidt.
Now, five months after the graduation of the greatest core of female athletes in school history, the Eagles look to rebuild.
"We lost a lot of good players," coach Paul Mork said. "We bring back a couple of starters, but for the most part this team is new -- really new."
Before Eagles fans fret too much, the cupboard is not exactly bare as the squad returns a pair of talented juniors in forward Cara Lutes and guard Rebekah Schmidt.
"It's good to have two players back that while they are experienced, are still juniors," Mork said. "They can continue to grow as we measure and find out the capabilities of our new players."
Lutes, who has already verbally committed to play collegiately for Drake University, have been a power in the paint for New Life since she was in eighth-grade.
The junior led her team in scoring last season with 16.2 points per game, while fellow 2009-10 captain Schmidt also averaged in double digits, with 10.7.
Still, even with the dynamic duo returning, Mork said fans that have gotten used to a long run of domination should temper their expectations this season.
"Undoub-tedly, we are rebuilding," he said. "We will also be playing a tough non-conference schedule. We want to go undefeated and win conference, but there's a lot we have to find out about this team."
Along with the co-captains, Mork lists sophomore center Reegan Baar as a key returnee from last season.
"She'll be one of the players we are counting on," he said.
From there, it'll be a baptism under fire for a great number of the 17 girls who came out for the program this year.
And before the Eagles even begin to worry about three-season-long conference winning streak in the Minnesota Christian Athletic Association, New Life will have to take on a number of top-notch teams from Minneapolis Roosevelt, Minnehaha Academy and Barnum -- just to name a few.
"We lost to Roosevelt and Minnehaha Academy last season," Mork said. "It's a tough schedule and our new people will find out quickly how difficult varsity is -- but we still want to play tough teams."
Whether the Eagles are able to earn the kinds of laurels that New Life squads of the past were able to remains to be seen, but Mork said in the end, if the team can improve and learn throughout the campaign, it will be a good year.
"It may sound cliché, but that's what I'll be looking for," he said. "We want our people to bring their skills as far as they can."