(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) The Lafayette girls basketball team returns four seniors into the third year of head coach Ryan Madison's system, and the Fighting Irish are jumping ahead of schedule before the season even starts.
"It's the third year we've run it now. We're executing things a lot better, and I think it's because we're more comfortable doing it," Madison said. "And we didn't change much this year. We're running alot of the same stuff we did last year. I feel like a lot more continuity this year, kids that have been in the program, and I have a feeling that's going to make a big difference."
Lafayette loses just two players from a 13-14 team. Madison hopes the experience can help make the Irish a contender in the Midland Empire Conference.
"We had four or five games last year in the 4th quarter that we were right there, in fact had leads in a lot of them, and we just don't understand how to win sometimes," Madison said. "I think we just need one really big one somewhere along the way where we take that step and win one of those games, but if we stay healthy, I think we have a really good chance."
One player that will continue to thrive under Madison is senior Oceonna Weston.
Weston's closing in on 1,000 career points and rebounds. Madison says she has worked hard in the off-season to become a better player.
"She's in the best shape she's ever been in. She's quicker, she's been shooting it a ton, she's shooting the ball really well right now," Madison said. "She's just a really good player. Sometimes you don't notice because she's kind of quiet, kind of picks her moments, but in practice everyonce in a while she'll just take a second that she's going to take over, and there's not much a lot of people can do about it. She's just a really, really good player."
"We usually try to get it to her. She's the best player on our team, and she can handle the ball really well," junior guard Ashley Hinkle said.
Lafayette's hoping the efforts of experienced players like Weston can help the Irish crack the .500 mark for the first time under Madison.
"We want to have a .500 record. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but when you haven't had one in a long time, and none of these kids have," Madison said. "We've been talking about it all year, building a bridge to the future, so we just want to establish that program, a little bit of tradition, and build on it every year."