Just because the Elgin Community College women's basketball team roster has virtually all new players on it doesn't mean the expectations are any lower.
The Spartans return no starters and only 3 players from last year's team that won Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference and Region IV titles and advanced to the NJCAA Division II nationals. It was the first time an ECC basketball team qualified for a national postseason tournament.
"Especially since we won conference two years in a row and the regional last year, there is a target on our back," ECC sophomore forward and Burlington Central product Sarah Nelson said. "We're ready for it. This team is a lot different from last year, but we all have the willingness to succeed. We all have the same goal in mind of winning conference and regionals again."
The 5-foot-10 Nelson is one of those three returning players for the Spartans, along with Bartlett product Alexa Diaz (5-9, F) and Jacobs alum Jenny Chesney (5-11, C).
Those three are likely starters in the early going along with 5-8 freshman shooting guard Jen Dumoulin (Hampshire) and 5-5 freshman point guard Jordan Bartelt (Dundee-Crown).
"The team is buying into playing team basketball," said veteran ECC coach Jerry McLaughlin, the 2012-2013 Region IV Division II coach of the year. "We have no superstars. Our strengths hopefully are our ability to push the ball and look for fast-break points and hopefully play up-tempo and press and run and break. We have no starters back. We're kind of starting new. Everybody has a chance to contribute on any given night. Anybody could get double points in assists and rebounds."
McLaughlin likes the team's selfless ways.
"Nobody is out there looking for one specific person," he said. "We're spreading the ball out and playing team basketball."
McLaughlin added one major key this year will be free-throw shooting given the NJCAA's new rules aimed at promoting more scoring and cracking down on hand checks and elbows.
"We're stressing the fundamentals," he said. "Making free throws will be critical more so this year than any other year. Time will tell. We're not real consistent with free throws right now. We have some good free-throw shooters and we'll keep working on it on a daily basis and get consistent because a lot of people will go to the foul line this year."
In addition to Dumoulin and Bartelt, other newcomers include freshmen Kim Jimenez (5-4, G, Streamwood), Erika Haynes (5-7, G, Burlington Central), Lizzy Panzica (5-8, F, Hampshire), Jackie Bartolai (5-10, F, Jacobs) and Porsche Griggs (6-0, C, Westminster Christian).
"We don't really have a superstar," said Nelson. "We all know we have to work together and doing that will win us some games."
Dumoulin, whose sisters Cassie and Alex were integral parts of ECC's success the last few years in winning multiple player of the year honors, said the unselfish attitude is a byproduct of the team's rapidly developing team chemistry.
"We have a good group of girls here," she said. "Everybody is very dedicated and hardworking. We have a lot of freshmen and a lot of news faces. Everybody gets along very well and works well together. It should be a lot of fun."
McLaughlin has talked about the program's recent success with this group.
"They know how important it is to continue the tradition here," he said. "They know every team we play will come at us with their best game. Winning back-to-back conference championships, everybody wants a piece of you. I've reiterated it. We're focusing in on each game. Hopefully we get better in November and December and by the time January comes around and we start conference, we'll have roles on the team established and people will step up. I believe all 10 players will contribute for us this year."
McLaughlin said Prairie State, Moraine Valley and Waubonsee will be top-shelf teams in the conference.
"On any given night in this conference you can get beat," he said. "Every team will come at us and have their best game. You can't go through the motions or be low-key. You have to be prepared. We have a young team, but we're excited about this young team."
Dumoulin said this team has a lot of work to do to live up to previous ECC squads, but feels they can be right there once again.
"There are extremely high expectations," she said. "We have to work hard in order to do what the previous years' teams have done. It's exciting to think about and it definitely keeps us focused. One of the good things about having no starters back is that everybody is pushing each other and fighting for spots. As the season goes on, we definitely will grow and continue to get better."
ECC hosts College of DuPage Tuesday in a nonconference game. The Spartans won their home-opener against Harper last week and lost to Carl Sandburg on Saturday.