ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Regardless if you're talking about the players or coaches, St. Clairsville head girls' basketball coach Alicia Freeman is looking back at the 2011-12 season as a total learning experience.
The Red Devils finished with a 6-15 mark in what was Freeman's first season of varsity coaching after taking the program over after a tour of duty with the junior high program.
"The biggest thing I learned from the coaches and my team is how to respond to things because things definitely don't work the way they did when I was coaching junior high," Freeman said.
"I spent a lot of time in the offseason reaching out to other coaches. I also tried to learn and grow from the players the same way they learn from you."
Thus, after their season ended in the sectional last winter, Freeman cleared the slate and has begun anew with basically the same cast of players.
"We're using a whole different approach and way of doing things," Freeman said. "The girls have all bought in and it didn't take long. They've gotten on board and they're starting to have fun playing basketball again. I think these girls are ready to have success."
The steps toward that success began this summer when the Red Devils went to team camp, played countless summer games and just observed how some of the 'good' teams and programs go about their business.
Most importantly, during the summer and fall, Freeman and the Devils got back to the fundamentals.
"We needed to focus on fundamentals and understanding the game," Freeman said. "We just didn't know the game very well. We had girls who were good athletes, but they didn't understand basketball. They're getting there, though."
According to Freeman, the Red Devils, whose only graduation losses were Carley Zavatsky and Alexis Emrisko, are going to be a team that gets better as the season goes along, so patience has been an often uttered word during the month of November.
"The girls understand it's going to be a work in progress," Freeman said. "We're patient with each other, but we can't be too patient. We have to be patient enough, however, that we understand each other well."
The Red Devils return a quick-footed, but diminutive cast of players.
Of the 16 players in the program, only two stand taller than 5-foot-7.
"Our biggest strength is that we're fast, but we're not very big," Freeman said. "We're very guard heavy and our shooting is coming along, but it's not where other teams are."
Shooting and scoring the basketball were major issues for the Devils last winter and that focus is one that's not changed whatsoever.
"We worked a lot on shooting last year and still to this day, we're working a lot on shooting," Freeman said. "It's coming along, but our strength is going to be on the defensive end of the floor."
The Red Devils don't plan on slowing the tempo down, but their nightly goal is to hold teams in the 30s.
"We take pride in our defense; the girls get after it and they're all tireless defenders," Freeman noted. "For us, it starts on that end of the floor. Our goal is to be competitive in every game and to do that, we'll have to play well defensively."
The Red Devils don't have one girl who can rip the cords each night for a high number of points, but Freeman thinks they have a bevy of players who could go for eight or nine a night.
''To stop us, you'll have to stop all five of us because they can all score,'' Freeman said. ''I think we can go eight or nine deep."
The Devils balance begins with senior Ashleigh Moulder (5-10), who played a lot last season and Freeman believes she's really improved her inside play to go along with a steady shot from the perimeter.
Junior Brigee Mick (5-5) had a solid season last winter and is a player who does "the little things to help teams win," according to her coach. Freeman is really impressed with how well Mick is improving each day.
Junior Lauren Figura (5-5) is one of the top shooters for the Red Devils and she's also got a quick step to the goal.
Junior Carlee Gillespie (5-5) is the Devils' best full-court defender and pressures the ball well.
Sophomore Alexis St. Clair (5-7) is a returning starter and Freeman believes she's taken strides to get even better.
Freeman, who likes her team's depth, believes she won't miss a beat when she has to go to the bench.
Supplying depth are senior Emily Delguzzo (5-4), frosh Anna DeFillipo (5-6), Alecia Avila (5-6), senior Haylee Skukan (5-4) and sophomore Ashten Cenkus (5-4).
Vying for minutes and seeing time on the jayvee squad are 5-7 freshman Sara Work, who transferred to St. C. from Burgettstown, Pa.; frosh Stephanie Sliva (5-8), Mikayla Westlake (5-6); sophomore Michaella Miller (5-4), and freshmen Irene Heath (5-4) and Tiffany DeNoble (5-7).
As a basketball junkie, Freeman loves the 22-game allowance.
"The more basketball you can play, the better," Freeman said. "Our schedule isn't easy. We're focusing on one week at a time. If we do that throughout the season, I think we should be competitive."
The early-season schedule does St. C. no favors. It opens with three Buckeye 8 games against Indian Creek, Union Local and Harrison Central.
The Red Devils no longer play Wheeling Park. They've picked up River for two and added a second game with Bridgeport.
Freeman's coaching staff has made a notable addition. Stacey Agnew - the former head coach at Bellaire - is back as the top aide. Also on board is Tom Sliva, who is also the Red Devils' baseball coach.
Nov. 29 - Indian Creek
Dec. 3 - at Union Local
Dec. 6 - Harrison Central
Dec. 10 - Edison
Dec. 13 - at Bellaire
Dec. 17 - Buckeye Local
Dec. 19 - at Bridgeport
Dec. 20 - Martins Ferry
Dec. 27 - at Barnesville
Dec. 29 - at River
Jan. 3 - at Indian Creek
Jan. 7 - Union Local
Jan. 10 - at Harrison Central
Jan. 14 - at Edison
Jan. 17 - Bellaire
Jan. 19 - River
Jan. 24 - at Buckeye Local
Jan. 26 - Barnesville, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 28 - at Martins Ferry
Jan. 30 - Bridgeport