Few seasons crash and burn quite like the one that singed the Modesto Junior College Pirates last season.
They started 9-4 and appeared to justify upraised expectations. Then came season-ending knee injuries to two starters point guard Camille Roberts and forward Annissa Garcia, both within a single week and the Pirates downsized.
They finished 13-14, 4-10 in the Big 8 Conference. Worse, their best player, Wisconsin import Janie Myles, transferred to Big 8 rival Cosumnes River, where she'll be eligible next season.
The Pirates' response? Surprisingly upbeat.
They opened the season last weekend by reaching the finals of the Cosumnes River tournament. Their 3-1 mark featured all-tournament showings by sophomore Lexy Posz and transfer Madelyn Birchall and explosive scoring from sophomore Briona Fontenot.
Coach Mike Girardi thinks something positive can grow from last season's adversity. Noteworthy: Their 13-14 mark was a six-win improvement, and their 4-10 in the Big 8 was an upgrade from their 1-27 the previous two years.
But they count.
"The chemistry is as good as we've had at this point," Girardi said. "We have versatile players who can play multiple positions."
Joining the roster this week from the volleyball team is 6-foot-3 center Jamie Beck (10 points per game), who blocked a school-record 78 shots last season. Roberts has bounced back from her injury to bring stability to the backcourt. Then there are two coming-home transfers Birchall from Southern Virginia University (Va.) and Jode Johnson from William Jessup to lend more athleticism.
Birchall, a Hughson High graduate, can work inside and also drive to the basket. So can Johnson, one of Beck's former teammates at Ceres.
If the Pirates stay healthy, they'll start five sophomores.
"Last year did allow for a lot of opportunities for freshmen," Girardi said. "I think we're clicking together this year because of that experience."
Coach: Mike Girardi (ninth)
Last Year: 13-14, 4-10 in Big 8
Key Players Lost: Janie Myles, Annissa Garcia, Nicole Serpa
Key Returning Players: Jamie Beck, Briona Fontenot, Camille Roberts, Lexy Posz
Key Newcomers: Madelyn Birchall, Jode Johnson
Outcome: Two transfers, the 5-10 Birchall and the 5-9 Johnson, could mesh with versatile returners Fontenot, Roberts and Posz. The 6-3 Beck promises more shotblocking. Serious midseason injuries stalled the Pirates last year.