Coming off their first varsity season, a season that saw them go 0-16 in league play, the Patriots see a reversal of fortune in their future and have lofty expectations heading into Bay Valley Athletic League play Jan. 2.
"If these girls get it together and if they realize they have the potential, which they do, there is no reason why we shouldn't be in the playoffs this year," said head coach Darin Price. "It's that simple."
Despite returning almost all the girls from last year's squad, Heritage still finds itself vastly inexperienced compared to other teams in the BVAL. The Patriots boast a senior-free squad of nine juniors and five sophomores.
With a team that features no seniors, one would think Heritage might be lacking leadership, a vital dimension for any winning club. But Price has no problem finding leaders on the court. "It's all about team," said Price. "That's our whole focus. They know it's not just on one person; everybody's got to do it if we are going to do this and do it well."
With lack of leadership crossed off the team's Achilles Heel list, the next point of concern is its lack of height. They're without a single player who stands more than 5 feet 9 inches. That lack of interior size could be a problem as the Patriots enter league play, where several BVAL teams, such as Deer Valley, Carondelet and Liberty, feature bigs who measure 6-3 or 6-4.
When Price saw that his team was vertically challenged, he realized that they'd need to become a running team, relying on stout defensive play to create transition opportunities on the other end of the floor.
The adjust-on-the-fly mentality appears to be working for the Patriots. After taking second place in the recent Alhambra tournament, the team has already surpassed last year's win total of four and shows no signs of stopping there.
"I've set the goals high, but I know these girls can do it," said Price. "We are not going to do what we did last year: go 0-16. They were freshmen and sophomores playing against juniors and seniors. Now that they have some of that experience, I think we'll be able to close out some of these league games."
Ivy Jones, who transferred from Freedom, and Kyiera Slone will anchor the Patriot guard play, and the team will rely on Jessica Khalil and Amaka Ofodu to step up their game along the wing, leaving Kiana Caban and Kara Babo to clean up in the low post.
The success of the Patriots will hinge on their ability to turn their potential into consistent play, according to Price.
"I think the concept of team is starting to sink in," said Price. "Once they have that, they'll be able to go a long way."
The Heritage players have also taken it upon themselves to make sure last season's 0-16 BVAL record doesn't repeat itself this time around.
Numerous players, including Babo, enter the season with a renewed dedication to the game, and many have changed their individual conditioning habits, eating rituals and overall health in an attempt maximize the success of this year's squad.
"Basketball is more of a lifestyle for us now, instead of just a sport," said Babo. "I think it is helping our team a lot."
Heritage faces a tough road ahead. BVAL play begins Wednesday, Jan. 2. The BVAL fields elite teams such as Deer Valley (which has state title aspirations) and Carondelet (always a title contender). The upstart Liberty and Pittsburg teams also figure to make the race for the BVAL crown a tight one.