AYER -- Last season the Lady Panthers crept into the playoffs gingerly after a season full of peaks and valleys. Ayer Shirley defeated its border rival Nashoba Valley Tech in the opening round as the No. 14 seed, but it was ultimately eliminated in the second round by a powerful Quaboag side.
The Lady Panthers have five seniors on their roster, including a newcomer who played her junior season at Lunenburg a year ago.
"I am hoping that we will be a fun team like we were last year," Pete Page said. "We are going to run the floor as much possible. We have Gabby Hebert coming back, who is an league MVP candidate in my mind."
The senior center, Hebert will be the gobbler down low for the Lady Panthers. Hebert led the Lady Panthers in rebounds and points for the majority of the season, and it looks like she is on pace to do the same again.
Providing a spark from the outside will be senior guard Tina Babcock. Babcock is a three-point threat with a load of tenacity and finishing ability. Olivia Warilla will solidify the guard spots for Ayer Shirley. Melissa Belanger will play a lot at the forward spot. Belanger brings a plethora of energy and leadership.
Sophomore Hailey Young will commandeer the point guard position in 2013-2014. Young played some valuable minutes as a freshman for the Lady Panthers last season, but Page believes she will be even better this season.
"I've never really coached anyone like Hailey before," he said. "She is a slasher that gets to the hoop, really, whenever she wants. She has a tendency to pick up fouls on people. It's a lot of fun having her. I think that she is going to do a really good job for us at the point."
Ayer Shirley looks to spread the floor and create one-on-one opportunities in transition. The big thing the team has been working on in the first two weeks of practice leading up to the regular season is penetrating and getting to the basket. Last season, Ayer Shirley was a heavy outside shooting team.
"When teams come out to take away our shot, can we penetrate and get to the basket?" he asked. "The sooner we can pick that up, the better team we are going to be."
The 2013-2014 Ayer Shirley Lady Panthers have 13 girls on its varsity roster.
"This is the deepest team I have ever coached," he said. "This year we have 13 girls who can play. We have a freshman coming in that can really play. Taylor Wright is going to be one of the first girls off the bench. She is a freshman, but she has probably played as much basketball as anyone on our team. She's very polished."
Junior Kayla Timmins will come in off the bench and spot-start for Hebert this season. Providing valuable minutes off the pine at the small forward position will be Emily Goodman.
Finding their niche of the pine will be Jamie McKenna, Lou Teague, Katherine Esielionis and Morgan Twormey.
"I am really looking forward to it," he said. "This team really seems to enjoy each other. They really work hard in practice. Every day I walk into the gym, it is just so much fun."
Hebert, Belanger, Warilla and Babcock will captain the Lady Panthers in 2013.
"The quicker we buy into playing hard man-to-man defense, the better our season will be this year," he said. "I think we will find out how hard it is to replace Emily Megan. The quicker we buy into that mentality, the better we will be."