The Morton girls basketball team plans to compete hard every night as it pursues another extended postseason run.
"We've definitely improved over where we were the first two-three days," MHS head coach Bob Becker said. "I like our team. I think the chemistry is good."
Especially early, the Potters will have a much-different look than the veteran-laden teams of the recent past.
It is possible junior point guard Kate Byrne will be the only returning starter on the floor for at least the opening week of the regular season.
Senior forward Sarah Livingston, who is expected to sign her Letter of Intent Wednesday with the University of Illinois, was sidelined with an ankle injury the first week of practice.
There was no timetable for her return as of Monday, although the injury seemed to be improving.
"We're going to battle with what we have," Becker said. "I don't care who we play, we should compete."
Byrne and Livingston were first-team all-Mid-Illini Conference selections from a Morton team that was an undefeated champion at 14-0.
The title was the Potters' second straight and fifth in the last eight years.
Morton was 31-3 overall in 2011-12 to tie the mark for most victories in a season. It won a school-record 18 consecutive games and the program's second sectional crown.
Becker said with a less-experienced squad, trusting the coaching staff and teammates who have been there before is important.
Livingston, one of three captains, was named first-team all-state by the Associated Press and Illinois Basketball Coaches Association, among others, after averaging 14.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game last year.
She shot 56 percent from the floor and was the team's steals leader with 87 in earning her third letter.
She enters this season as the overwhelming leader with 276 career blocks. Livingston also is third all-time for the Potter girls with 734 rebounds and No. 6 with 1,148 points.
She is one of the high-profile players in downstate Illinois.
Byrne, also a captain, led Morton with 2.8 assists per game, to go along with her 9.8 ppg, 38 percent 3-point accuracy and 71 steals.
"When she's in attack mode, teams will have a hard time guarding Kate," said Becker of the player who is challenged this season to be more of a leader.
She was a special-mention all-state pick by the IBCA as a sophomore in her second varsity campaign.
Juniors Emily Schultz and Abbie Cox got extensive playing time a year ago, with each averaging better than 12 minutes per game.
Schultz, who is in much better physical shape, shot 43 percent from the field and 73 percent from the free-throw line last year.
Cox, whom Becker said is possibly Morton's most competitive player, has practiced hard for what figures to be an increased role. She is the third team captain.
Page 2 of 2 - Others on the season-opening roster include: senior Ashley Gilles, juniors Madie Kraft, Tatum Dowell, Savannah Rhodes and Bella Jackson, sophomores Emma Heisler and Logan Namanny and freshmen Chandler Ryan and Jadison Wharram.
Ryan, maybe the best shooter in the program, was in the mix for a starting slot a week ahead of the season opener.
Gilles played in 29 games in '11-12. Kraft, Rhodes and Jackson also got a taste of the varsity level.
Rhodes and Kraft have battled preseason injuries as well.
The Potters plan to incorporate a dribble-drive scheme that they hope will produce more lay-ups.
"We're going to try a little different approach offensively to match our personnel," said Becker.
Morton aims to continue the nearly decade-long tradition of peaking at the end of the season.
It has won seven regional crowns in the last eight years and has an overall postseason mark of 23-9 in that time frame.
The Potters lost first-team all-M-I players Cortney Allenbaugh and Lexi Ellis, plus Erin Tisdale, to graduation.
Allenbaugh was the No. 2 scorer and rebounder in her lone season at Morton and ranked sixth for a single season with 86 steals.
As four-year players, Ellis and Tisdale were part of 97 Potter victories. Both were in the top 10 in a career category.
Nearly every conference team projects to be as good or better compared to last year.
Limestone has been the runner-up four times in the last five years. Dunlap, another upper-division finisher, has several components back.
Canton and East Peoria, the bottom two teams a year ago, could make the biggest strides.
Washington's top-three scorers departed, but players who performed well at the underclass levels were elevated. Metamora has the league's only new head coach.
Pekin will be challenged after a breakthrough last season that was fueled by seniors.
Richwoods joined the fourth annual Morton Thanksgiving Tournament that takes places Nov. 23-24.
In the Knights' place on the non-conference schedule is Chatham Glenwood, which was a regional champion last winter.
The Potters will collide with CG Tuesday to open the season before remaining home for four tournament games in two days.
"The ability to handle the ball in pressure situations is something I hope will be tested early," said Becker.