QUINCY -- A new season of Quincy High School girls basketball gets underway Tuesday with the Blue Devils opening up at Jacksonville.
It's also the start of a new era of QHS girls basketball, with Brad Dance manning the sidelines for the first time. While this will be his first showing as head coach, Dance was an assistant under Martin Pazanin last year, which makes the transition much smoother.
"It's not that different since he was an assistant last year," Blue Devils senior Olivia Edwards said. "Whenever I was on the bench he would talk to me and help me through whatever I was going through, so I am really excited that he's our head coach this year. He's doing a really good job."
Dance has put his stamp on the team early on in the first two weeks of practice, and so far the girls have handled the adjustment.
"We've put in a new system both offensively and defensively, so it's been a learning curve for them," Dance said. "The older kids have picked up on it really well and really quickly, so that's been a pleasant surprise. The younger kids are coming along, they are having their growing pains but its a long season and they will keep getting better every day."
Defensively the Blue Devils will run a mix of zone and man-to-man looks -- even mixing in a little press -- but the noticeable difference will be the offensive approach.
"We have quite a few offensive sets we're going to run," Dance said. "We're not going to just be one dimensional."
The strength of the team lies in the guard spots, with Edwards and juniors Kate Chevalier and Bre Sapp handling the load.
Edwards will do much of the ball handling, and she expects her other two backcourt mates to let it fly from behind the 3-point line.
"Kate and Bre are really good shooters and both have been doing really well shooting the ball, so I am excited to get my assists with them," Edwards said.
Dance, too, is expecting a lot out of the backcourt.
"I expect to be led by our guards," he said. "We've talked a lot about how they have to stay composed, they've got to stay on the court and they've all matured a lot from last year, so I think that's going to help."
They won't be alone on the court, however, as QHS does possess some size down low. Junior Emily Wilson, standing at 5-foot-11, and 6-foot senior Brin Hultz will lock down the paint, giving the Blue Devils extra options.
"Hopefully we'll mix it up because there's a lot of things we can run out of that group," Dance said.
A season ago QHS finished 21-9 but fell in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs to Belleville East. This year Dance has the Blue Devils facing a more difficult regular season schedule with a Thanksgiving shootout at O'Fallon, Ill., and a holiday tournament Dixon, Ill., that will feature more teams in their class in hopes of preparing for the postseason.
"This is the toughest schedule we've had in 10 years," Dance said. "We're going to have a tough schedule and the girls know that, but it's a process and we've got to get better. It may not be pretty on the first weekend but when we go to see them later in the season hopefully we've progressed and matured a little bit."
Even facing a more daunting schedule, the Blue Devils are eager to prove they can keep the winning going.
"Our program just went up and we want to show we can stay up and we can win just as much as we did last season and maybe even a little more," Edwards said.