Qualifying for the state and FCIAC tournaments have been high on the Greenwich girls basketball team's list of goals for years.
Excited about the talent returning from last year's team and the addition of promising first-year players, the Cardinals believe they have the potential to finally cross those goals off their list this season.
"All of the hard work we put in from last year is carrying over, so expectations are high," Cardinals senior quad-captain Caroline Barrett said. "We believe we're going to make states, make the FCIAC Tournament, commit a lot less turnovers and shoot a higher free throw percentage."
Indeed, the Cardinals, who struggled to a 4-16 finish a year ago, have pretty lofty expectations. Yet they seem more determined than ever to meet them.
"I am feeling really good about the team, we've had some strong practices and we have a lot of new players," said Rebecca Kural, also one of the team's four captains. "Last year, though our record didn't show it, we really improved as a team. I think this year we are going to bring it all together and our record will show it more."
Like most teams entering a new season, optimism was high at Greenwich's practice on Tuesday -- the day before its season-opener against New Canaan. The Cardinals seemed like they couldn't wait to get their 2012-13 campaign going as they practiced their offensive sets and worked on their defensive play under the watchful eye of second-year coach Chrys Hernandez.
"This year we are going to have a balanced attack that we didn't have in the past," said Hernandez, who was an All-FCIAC center at McMahon as Chrys Washington before continuing her basketball career at the University of Rhode Island. "Our players put a lot of work in during the offseason. They played in a lot of leagues, went to the weight room and really pushed themselves to improve."
The balanced attack Hernandez referred to is the inside-out game the Cardinals seem to possess. With Barrett, who can play both shooting guard and point guard, and senior quad-captain Jenny Cespedes solidifying the backcourt, Kural and 6-foot freshman center Abbie Wolf give the Cards low-post options.
"Abbie has a good skill set," Hernandez said. "She has great hands, a good low post game and can finish around the basket. She quickly worked her way into our system."
Senior quad-captain Danielle Raviele, who will miss the team's first two games with a shoulder injury, should spark the Cardinals from the perimeter upon her return.
"Last year we set the groundwork for what we're expecting this year," Raviele said. "Now we're trying to push the bar higher and go much further with our success. We have a whole new mentality this year and we're really focusing on pushing the ball and being more aggressive."
Said Barrett: "We have a real fire this year to accomplish the goals we have been setting the past three years."
AT THE HELM: Hernandez begins her second season as head coach of the Cardinals. She helped Rhode Island reach the championship game of the Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament in 2003 and after graduating from URI in 2005, was the head coach of the junior varsity girls team at McMahon. Prior to taking over the Cardinals' program, Hernandez served as an assistant coach of the Manhattanville College women's basketball team.
WHO'S BACK?: Barrett, who was the team's leading scorer last season before missing more than five games due to a concussion, is a strong shooter from the perimeter and can also beat defenders off the dribble. Cespedes is a solid ball handler, while Raviele adds depth in the backcourt.
Junior Rebecca DeCarlo, who saw significant minutes last season, should aid the Cardinals offensively in the backcourt, with Wolf and Kural solidifying the frontcourt.
WATCH OUT FOR: Wolf has the potential to make a positive impact in her first season on the squad, as does freshman guard Caroline Beneville. Sophomores Jamie Kockenmeister and Alexa Moses should also be key contributors. Hernandez is pleased to see senior Brittany Rodriguez "back in the mix" after missing two seasons with knee injuries.
STRENGTHS: "One of our main goals is playing strong defense," Cespedes said. "The key to winning is defense and we've been working really hard to improve our defense."
The Cardinals should have better floor balance this season with the addition of Wolf in the low post.
WEAKNESSES: Hurt by turnovers last season, the Cardinals must take care of the ball and make each possession count.
"As a team, our goal is to stay at 15 turnovers or less," Hernandez said. "Right now our average is about 20-25, so we have to cut that number down. We have to capitalize on our opportunities and take the shots that are presented to us. It's important for us to finish around the basket."
SHOWDOWNS: After opening the season against New Canaan on Wednesday, the Cards will visit Danbury on Friday. Greenwich will host Trinity Catholic (Dec. 14), Stamford (Dec. 18), St. Joseph (Jan. 8), Wilton (Jan. 10), Brien McMahon (Jan. 15), Harding (Jan. 25), Westhill (Feb. 1) and Bassick (Feb. 13). They will compete in the Tony LaVista Tournament Dec. 27-29 at Darien High School.