The Kettering Fairmont High School girls basketball team entered last season with big expectations despite having an inexperienced lineup.

The Kettering Fairmont High School girls basketball team entered last season with big expectations despite having an inexperienced lineup.

The Firebirds were one step away from advancing to a Division I regional semifinal, but lost to Springboro 52-27 in a district final.

Last year also was the first time the team participated in the Holiday Classic. It finished fourth after losing to Oak Ridge (Tenn.) 66-55 in the third-place game.

The Firebirds have bigger expectations this season for the Kroger Holiday Classic as well as the entire season since they return almost everybody from last year's team.

Fairmont will be led by Kendra Elam (forward), Cassie Sant (forward/post player), Tenia Scarver (point guard) and Brianna Welch (guard). Elam will play for Findlay next season and Welch is headed for West Virginia Wesleyan. Tenia Scarver will play for Ohio Dominican and Sant has yet to decide but is being pursued by many Division I teams.

"We've basically got five returning players that either started or saw a lot of minutes last year," coach Tim Cogan said. "So we started with a good nucleus to work with and they're kids that have been with us before."

Having that experience and quality has allowed Cogan to be flexible with how the team plays. He said that offensively Fairmont can play at an uptempo pace or can slow it d own, depending on the opponent and the situation. The Firebirds will operate in a man-to-man defense the majority of the time.

Having a good group of experienced players back enabled Fairmont to get off to a good start. The Firebirds were 4-1 before their game Dec. 17 against Centerville, with the wins by an average of 19.3 points.

Fairmont has a tough matchup in the first round as the Firebirds will open against Knoxville (Tenn.) Webb, which was a state-runner up last season in Division II-AA. But Webb no longer has Glory Johnson, who is now playing for Tennessee. The Spartans are led by another Tennessee recruit, 6-foot-3 post player Faith Dupree, and a Rice recruit, 5-6 point guard Jessica Goswitz.

"Winning in the first game really puts you in a good situation for the rest of the tournament. Winning that first game is critical," Cogan said. "Knoxville Webb is a pretty good team with some great players. We'll have watched some film on them by the time the tournament starts."

For Fairmont, the tournament will serve as a tool to help prepare for the rest of the season. It gives the Firebirds a chance to see quality teams outside of their regular-season schedule.

"Without a doubt it can help you prepare for future endeavors," Cogan said. "The kids have to handle it the right way. They need to believe they can win no matter what team they're playing against and come away knowing you got something out of it.

"We strive to win the league every year, even though that's got a lot to do with Beavercreek. We want to get back to the district title game and move into the regional. We always have a goal to win a state title and we're preparing for that opportunity."