CHATHAM, NJ - Looking at some of the youth in front of him during practice, Chatham girls basketball coach Joe Gaba reminded his players about the program's history.
"We were 13-11 last year, but that's not the expectations of this program," Gaba said. "We had nine straight 20-win seasons before that. We want to get back to that level."
Gaba noted that the string of nine straight 20-win seasons had been broken by a 19-win campaign before last season's drop to 13.
Junior guard Cassandra Falone returns as Chatham's most accomplished player. She's joined by senior guards Emily Walczyk and Shea Matta, and senior forwards Morgan Monson and Olivia Diaz-Saavedra.
Falone, adept at shooting the 3 or driving to the basket, is targeted as the player who will need to take over the leaderhip role formerly held by Natalie Washuta, who is now at Colgate.
"I think I can take the leadership role this year," Falone said. "To lead, I need to communicate more. I've also been working on my drives to the basket."
A couple standout freshmen, Chloe Blanc and 6-1 Veronica Kelly, should be in the mix right away for Gaba, whose roster also includes two sophomores, Michelle Connolly and Liz Ford, who saw spot duty on the varsity last season. Juniors Ava Fornaro and Caroline Viscovich also have varsity experience.
"We have a lot of returning players and a couple of freshmen coming up," Walczyk said. "We have a lot of height and a lot of speed. We're looking to definitely press more this year."
Blanc could step right into Washuta's vacant position at guard, which would likely help open things up for Falone on the offensive end.
"I expect (Falone) to be more of a floor leader and get everyone involved," Gaba said. "She'll need to find people in scoring positon and get them the ball. Chloe is a tremendous athlete and a great basketball player and she's definitely going to be pushing for a starting job."
Adding to the depth are juniors Sarah Oliver and Emma Kennedy, sophomore Gia Mariano and freshman Camryn Davies.
"The one thing we have this year is a lot of depth," Gaba said. "We have a good mix of young and old and our youth is very good. What it's done is it has made practice competitive and that's good for our depth. We plan on wearing other teams down."
Gaba's teams have been known for their full-court pressure, but got away from that last season because his bench wasn't as deep.
"The good thing about our seniors is that last year was their first playing on the varsity and it was a great experience for them," Gaba said. "They had never been in that situatiion before so this year, you're going to see a lot different senior class. They're going to be much more comfortable in their roles."
Chatham, which opens at home Saturday, Dec. 20 vs. Saddle River Day, plays its first scrimmage, 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 8 when Linden visits CHS.