When the start of the Iowa girls basketball season kicks off next week, there will be plenty of opportunities for new faces to make their mark in the Mississippi Athletic Conference.
Of the conference's top six scorers from last season, just one returns as teams are now looking for new leaders to carry them through the season.
"It's a great opportunity for these seniors that have been around the program for a little bit to step up and be the flagship person for our program," Bettendorf head coach Brian Tritt said at the annual preseason luncheon hosted by the Davenport Noon Optimists Club Friday at the RiverCenter. "To score points and grab rebounds and also be the leadership piece as well. I think that's just as important."
The Bulldogs boast that one returning player in senior Kylie Wroblewski, who averaged 13 points per game last season for the Bulldogs.
Though many of the stalwarts of the conference are gone, it's not like everyone is hitting the reset button. Several teams return either starters or key role players who are eager to take the next step.
North Scott boasts the most returning experience, with its top six scorers all coming back from a 20-3 team, three of whom were starters on its state championship squad from two seasons ago.
For some, the focus is on finding who will now step up into the role positions that are vital down the stretch.
"They're making our life pretty difficult from a coaching standpoint," Pleasant Valley head coach Jen Goetz said. "We've got kids from about five to 16 that are battling for playing time. That's an awesome thing to have. It makes me a little stressed at times, but it's making it difficult in a good way."
North Scott and Pleasant Valley were picked to finish first and second in the coaches poll conducted at the event, with Bettendorf and North finishing tied for third.
The Wildcats lost two four-year players in Coral Dillie and Paige Bradford but still return plenty of experience, though some of that comes from outside the conference. Junior Anne Awour and sophomore Bella Sims transferred into Davenport North after last season after earning second team all-Western Big Six honors, Awour at Rock Island and Sims at United Township.
Even teams that struggled last year have reasons for optimism this season.
Clinton features a new coach in Stacy Clark, and Pat Finn returns for a full season with West after taking over the helm for the Falcons late last season, hopefully providing some stability.
"I'm confident we're going to make some strides this year," Finn said. "We haven't been real strong — I think everyone knows that — but I try to preach patience, persistence and practice. That's where we're at right now, and I think it's going pretty well."
With a new cycle of athletes ready to leave their mark, the conference figures to be competitive throughout the season, which can only pay off once the postseason hits.
"I think it's going to be better than last year, which is a good thing," Tritt said. "We need to keep gaining ground on our counterparts in the Cedar Rapids area, Iowa City and Des Moines, get as many teams to the state tournament as possible."