From the batch of incoming freshmen to the team’s lone two seniors and all the way up to ninth-year head coach Susan Orvis, everyone involved with the Muscatine girls basketball team is facing a new challenge this season.
With only five upperclassmen on the roster, the bevy of youthfulness and inexperience that the Muskies bring to the new season is glaring.
But instead of trying to disguise it, Muscatine will embrace it.
“We got to get everybody acclimated, we’ve got to get everybody up to the pace, the intensity of this level,” Muscatine girls basketball coach Susan Orvis said. “And then after that, I think you’ll see this team get better and better. We’ve got a tough part of our schedule right out of the gate, a lot of it’s on the road, a lot of it’s the upper tier of the conference right now, so we got to be ready to meet that challenge head on.”
The Muskies have just two seniors, Tessa Kerr and Paige Miller, and three juniors, Macey Rogers, Kendra Eller and Kayla Scholz, on the roster this year.
The five players were responsible for 42.7 percent of Muscatine’s scoring last season. Rogers led that group at 8.2 points per game, and they will be relied on as leaders of the program.
“We’ve got some solid, solid returners coming, we just have few of them,” Orvis said. “We’re excited about their leadership, we’re excited to mix the others in, and I really think we can make some good progress this year.”
Preparing to wrap up their final season as Muskies, Kerr and Miller have been focused on getting the newcomers situated and comfortable in the new environment. The duo has been playing together ever since they both joined YMCA basketball when they were 6 years old.
“I remember we became friends through YMCA basketball because (Kerr) would always stand behind me and flip my hair,” Miller said. “That was just kind of how we started our friendship, I guess. We’ve stuck with each other the whole way.”
Now the focus has shifted to creating relationships with the new players joining the team this season.
“I’ve played for a long time with the same group of girls, so I’ve had good memories with those,” Kerr said. “So this year will be a shift, and I’m excited to make new memories with new people on the team.”
It's that type of camaraderie that has kept Kerr and Miller invested in the sport for so long.
"At the end of the year, I don't really go back and look at how many wins and how many losses we have," Miller said. "I remember all of the memories that we shared and all the fun that we had. I think that's the most important part of it, creating those relationships."
The Muskies have three freshmen — Alicia Garcia, Zoey Long and Avarie Eagle — who will play with the team’s older group.
“They’ve done a nice job in practice so far, and we think they can help us this year,” Orvis said.
They also return sophomores Rylee Blake and Emily Woepking.
And while the team’s first test, a road matchup against Class 5A 14th-ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie, resulted in a 48-38 loss, there were plenty of positives to take away from it.
Rogers scored 15 points and Kerr poured in 13 to lead the Muskies, but outside of that, the scoring was minimal as no other player tallied more than four points. Miller had four, Long three and Garcia three to round out the scoring.
“I think as this year goes on, as we continue to work right every single day and establish that priority of coming to practice right every day and getting something gained every day, I think you’ll see this team get better and better,” Orvis said before the season started. “We’re really excited about that. Their attitudes have been great, their work ethic has been great. We just need time to put it together.”