The Beechcroft High School girls basketball program has come a long way since Mike Fleming took over in 2006-07.
After they posted a pair of one-win seasons, the Cougars went 3-17 in Fleming's first season and then improved to 7-14 a year ago. Beechcroft even hung with eventual Division II district champion Eastmoor before falling 49-38 in the second round of the tournament.
With eight returning players, the Cougars believe they can take another step forward. Beechcroft opens Monday at Walnut Ridge and plays Tuesday against visiting Watkins Memorial before opening City League-North Division action Dec. 9 at home against Northland. The Cougars beat the Scots 51-22 but lost to Watkins Memorial 59-42 and were swept by the Vikings 41-19 and 58-26 last year.
"It's going well," senior Au-Juvan Andrews said. "We started practicing a few weeks ago and we're learning to work well with each other. Our chemistry is better. We need to stay committed and run our offense."
The 6-foot-2 Andrews blossomed into a strong post presence last year, averaging 5.9 points and 9.8 rebounds. She is joined down low by 5-10 senior Princess Kuumba (6.3 points, 9.6 rebounds), who is the leading returning scorer, and sophomore TaRonna Neal (4.6 points).
Kuumba and Andrews scored in double figures three times last year.
Senior Lashelle Harris, who averaged 7.5 points over the first eight games last year before reinjuring the right knee that caused her to miss all of her sophomore season, is not back with the team.
Sophomore Jasmine Smith returns at point guard and should be joined in the backcourt by junior Miyoshi McGee (5.8 points).
Jessica Smith and Ashley Reggins are the other seniors and also back is junior Alycia Davis.
Sophomores Ashlyn Shaw and Sha'Niqua Price are new to the team. Kara Grooms (5.2 points), Krystyn Groom and Faith Armstead (3.0 points) were the only players lost to graduation.
Andrews, Kuumba and Reggins are captains.
"Things have been going pretty well," Fleming said. "We've just been working on our plays a lot. I think we'll be pretty well-rounded. We don't have that one star player, so I'll definitely be leaning on my seniors.
"Au-Juvan has been in the weight room and is a little bit stronger. She's done some things to improve herself. But it's not going to be all on Au-Juvan's or Princess' shoulders."
Beechcroft finished seventh at 4-10 in the City League-North Division last year behind Brookhaven (13-1), Mifflin (12-2), Northland (10-3), Linden-McKinley (6-8), East (5-8) and Whetstone (5-9) and ahead of Centennial (0-14). The Cougars split their final six of the regular season, including beating East (48-42), Centennial (47-38) and non-league West (54-46).
"The work ethic is definitely a little different than it's been in the past," Fleming said. "I think we'll be able to run the floor a little bit better. Our field-goal percentage wasn't the greatest last year but I think we'll be able to improve that."