The Frontenac Lady Raiders begin their season Friday night at home against St. Mary’s-Colgan, and they will do so with a new coach on the bench, as Martha Harper replaces former head coach Jeremy Rakes.

Though the coach is different, the expectations are not any less lofty.

“We want to compete for the conference title this upcoming year,” Coach Harper said. “I think that we will be finishing high in the league this year, and we know that it will be tough to be the champ, but that is our goal.”

Helping Coach Harper and assistant coach Scott Fields achieve their goals of winning a CNC title will be a returning group of five seniors: Ashlie Young, Gwen Smalley, Kamryn Osborn, Alivia Bridwell and Kaylee Harper.

“They have worked hard as a group and been really good leaders out here in practice,” Coach Harper said. “I do expect a lot from Kaylee to lead individually. I want her to be strong underneath and lead in rebounds every game. Kamryn Osborn will be our shooter from the outside. Gwen Smalley is quick defensively and is good at driving on offense, which, hopefully, gets her some fouls and easy shots from the free throw line.”

Frontenac will look to play a more physical style of game this year, relying more on team defense and basketball acumen than a run-and-gun style.

“I hope that we look scrappy and play very good defense this year,” Coach Harper said. “We want the ball, but we won’t be relying on our quickness so much as our basketball IQ on the floor. We have to be smart with the ball and defensively. We have to do the little things well to win — set good screens, get good shots, rotate. But, this will be a good defensive team.”

Helping the seniors will be a talented group of underclassmen, led by two girls who will see a lot of minutes every night.

“We will be looking to some of our underclassmen to step up this year and take on a larger role on this team,” Harper said. “Taylor Peterson is finally healthy from knee surgery her freshman year. She has the ability to drive and dish like she did two years ago, so we are happy with where she is at. Madison Davis is doing a great job and has a really good outside shot; she has been shooting well. I also have some freshman who are contending for varsity spots this year, so we are excited with where we are at beyond our seniors.”

The schedule will not be easy. A few years ago, when the Raiders finished as state runners-up, they scheduled games against some of the better teams in the four-state area, a schedule still being played this year.

“Our schedule is tough this year,” Coach Harper said. “We have Labette County, Carl Junction, Carthage, and our invitational this year. Then, we start our league play after that. Our pre-league and the tournament we host should have us well-prepared for the CNC. We might not have a winning record coming into league play, but we will be a better team by far. This year will be tough.”

Battle-tested and fundamentally sound is a good combination for a championship-caliber team, which is what the Frontenac Lady Raiders expect to be this 2016-17 basketball season.