After losing just 2 seniors to graduation from a team that won 23 games and captured its first regional title since 2006 a year ago, Neuqua Valley girls basketball coach Mike Williams holds high expectations for this season.
Perhaps that is why he sounded less than thrilled with some of the things he saw during the Wildcats' 63-30 season-opening triumph over St. Charles North (0-1) Wednesday night at the York Thanksgiving Holiday Tournament in Elmhurst.
"We came out on fire in the first quarter," said Williams, whose team jumped out to a 22-3 lead after 8 minutes. "In the second quarter, we were a little lackadaisical on defense with our rotations and I thought St. Charles North started to take advantage of us a little bit."
Natalie Winkates and Sam Novak tallied 4 points each as the North Stars battled on even terms with the Wildcats in the second quarter (11-11).
"The bottom line for us is that we've got a core group of kids that have been raised in our system the last couple years as varsity players," said Williams. "We've talked about it. It's great to be good but now it's time to be great.
"We need to step it up and we need to be focused the entire time. We were 3-of-13 from the free-throw line in the second quarter and 4-of-12 on layups. Those are the types of things that come back to bite you in the rear end."
Sophomore center Bryce Menendez led 3 Neuqua Valley players in double figures with 14 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocked shots, while Allison Hedrick and Malia Smith added 13 and 12 points, respectively.
"We're really working together," said the 6-foot-2 Menendez, who shot 7-of-12 from the field. "That's our theme this year."
Neuqua Valley employed smothering full-court pressure to frustrate the youthful North Stars early. The Wildcats jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the first 2:16 of the contest and held St. Charles North without a field goal until Winkates banked in a 16-footer with 1:08 remaining in the opening quarter.
"I think there were a lot of jitters and it was a little overwhelming," said North Stars coach Colleen Backer, whose starting lineup consisted of 2 freshmen, 2 sophomores, and a senior. "We are a young team. Four out of five people had never seen a varsity court."
Winkates paced the North Stars with 9 points, while Allie Reed added 6 as their bench outscored Neuqua's reserves, 21-16.
"We are a group," said Backer. "We're really focusing hard on the word we, and we weren't happy with the first quarter. We win together and we lose together, and we need to move forward.
"Neuqua is a good team but that's reality," added Backer. "We've got a tough schedule."
St. Charles North returns to York this afternoon to face Conant.
"From the tone of my team after the game, we're ready," said Backer. "We're not happy, and that's what you want."