CONNORVILLE - Building a program takes time, but it takes more time if the building blocks keep falling down. Entering his seventh year as Buckeye Local girls' basketball coach, Willie Luther's hopes and goals have never changed. Build a good program that develops good players.
During his tenure at the Panthers helm, his teams have experienced their ups and downs. Last season was the proverbial can of worms with good stretches and bad before finishing with a 7-13 mark and dropping the opener in the sectional.
A good nucleus returns, but a couple blocks have already fallen and that only means one thing Luther, his staff and players will just have to work a bit harder.
Luther's roster includes four seniors, four juniors, six sophomores and eight freshmen. Four of those sophomores and one freshmen will be elevated to see action at the varsity level along with the junior and senior group.
''We have five lettermen returning and we are looking for them to provide the leadership that we need on this team,'' Luther said. ''We also need those girls to step up an done a little bit better than they did last year.
''Each one of our returning players has the capability of taking their game to the next step. They all have the capability to become leaders on the floor and that is what we are asking them to do this year.''
Luther's returning letterwinners include seniors Kayla Fillipovich, Amy Balk, Danielle Smith and Alexis Valuska, junior Morgan Fedorko and sophomore Lauren Swiger. The 5-foot-11 Fillipovich is looking for a fourth letter as she returns as the top scorer (12.2 ppg) and rebounder (11.9 rpg) from a year ago. The 5-9 Balk averaged 2.9 points and rebounds and two assists as a junior and the 5-6 Valuska tallied 4.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists from her guard spot. Smith saw most of her action coming off the bench, but provided timely help throughout the season.
Fedorko, a 5-6 guard, scored five points per outing and added 3.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists. The 5-10 Swiger, who turned heads on the court as just a freshmen last year, average 4.3 points, three rebounds and 1.5 assists last season.
Three other juniors will be vying for floor time this season when the Panthers take the floor. That group includes 5-7 post Karlee Leonard, 5-5 post Chanler Long and 5-4 guard Ashley Taylor.
Luther indicated that three other sophomores will see considerable time at the varsity level. The group has 5-2 guard Carly Banal, 5-8 post Kierstyn Czuchran and 5-6 guard Bailee Morrocco. Other sophomores that will start the season with jayvee squad are 5-5 post Mikayla Parteli and 5-9 post Kala Petrella.
Luther has one of his talented freshmen listed with the varsity who could quit possibly open the season at the point in 5-3 guard Becky Zeroski.
''We are looking for individual improvement that leads to overall team improvement,'' Luther said. ''We do have a lot of younger players, but they have played a lot of basketball, not as much on the varsity level, but they spent a lot of time on the court.
''Right now we are just trying to find the right mix of varsity returning players and younger players to step up and fill areas of need and improve. That will all lead to success.
''The Buckeye 8 is going to be very competitive again this year, but I feel like we are very capable of being competitive in the Buckeye 8.''
Buckeye graduated three players from last year's team. The trio included Sydney Omaits, Tori Nest and Jonecia Sindledecker.
Luther has a veteran and skilled staff that includes Tom Figurski, Charlie Nest and Bob Czuchran.