MONROE — Going for a repeat title is no easy task at any level.
Most championship teams have to deal with some attrition during the offseason. In some cases, the loss of several players can change the chances of another trophy to a high degree.
The Monroe High girls basketball team not only finished the 2016-17 season with a 2A state title, but went undefeated in the process.
The Dragons have the bulk of their roster back this season and that means lofty expectations of another championship run.
"I feel very confident," senior guard/forward Peyton Greene said. "I expected a lot from the team and everybody did bring to the table what I expected. I think we have a chance again. I think we can go for two. But knowing that you can't always be undefeated is a good thing because you need to lose to also know where you stand and gauge in what to improve on. Having a loss now I think is good for us and I think that we will still come out on top."
That loss was at Kennedy. The Dragons fell 49-40 when they went cold in the fourth.
Senior guard/forward Kailey Martin said the Dragons have been able to use the loss as motivation.
"We'll just come back with more fire and more of a drive to succeed, and we use that as a positive thing and it's still a learning opportunity," Martin said.
The Dragons also struggled to defend Kennedy's 6-foot post, Sophia Carley. That showed that a repeat run won't be easy. The Dragons only lost three players, but Rose Gwillim (5-10), Emily Stahl (5-11) and Dustie Langley were key to their play up front. Gwillim and Langley moved and Stahl was a senior.
So the Dragons are left with a relatively small team with two players (Peyton Bodi at 5-10 and Tyler Warden at 5-11) above 5-9. The team has started out well enough but did have its 32-game win streak snapped with the loss at Kennedy.
Seniors Madison Ballard, Jenna Crowson and Cameron Knaggs are all guards, along with junior Kyndal Martin and sophomores Chloe May and Mirtha Lopez.
Bodi, Kailey Martin, seniors Rebekah Ballard and Greene, and freshman Ashley Sutton are all guard/forwards.
Monroe coach Tony Parker said the size deficit changed how he approached the season at first, but he has since decided to focus on the Dragons' speed and athletic ability.
"Every year we have to start over because we've got different personnel," Parker said. "It's a fight sometimes before Christmas to kind of get into a rhythm and see what works best with the group that we have this year. It's taken a little time but we'll get there."
Madison Ballard said the Dragons realized they needed to use their speed to their advantage on defense.
They worked on different zones and pressure defenses to mix it up and keep opposing teams off-balance.
"We really pride ourselves on defense and so without the height, our guards, we need to put a lot more pressure on so it makes it hard to get it inside to the other team's post if they have size," Ballard said.
"For the inside game, for the offensive side of it, we're working more on using our speed, so dribble penetration and then kick-outs. We don't have the posts to just post up all the time so we really have to keep moving and keep the movement to get by people."
Most of the senior group has played together since first grade, and the entire team is close.
That has enabled the Dragons to stay at a high level.
"We're really close," Knaggs said. "We've known each other for a long time and played a lot of basketball together. We know where each other is going to be on the court and it works really well.
"Like certain players, you'll know where they're going to be and if they're going to lift up so you can pass it to them or not. You just get to know them really well."
The experience of going undefeated and winning a state title should help in the long run.
The Dragons understand how to handle tough situations during the regular season and the intensity of the playoffs.
"I think it gives us a leg up knowing what it takes to win and we can refer back onto that; we can also use that as a learning experience," Kailey Martin said. "What we need to do better to make the games easier in those playoff times because those are always really hard, everyone wants to win."