With a host of players back, the East Peoria girls basketball team is in position to take a big step forward in 2012-13.
But the Raiders will have to prove that their growth on the practice floor translates into game situations.
"We're ready for Tuesday to actually see where we're at," EPCHS head coach Jay Bowman said last week. "We're excited to get a game going just as a measuring stick."
East Peoria was scheduled to begin the Galesburg Thanksgiving Tournament Tuesday against Class 3A power Springfield, which has captured four consecutive state trophies.
The Raiders are coming off a 5-22 record in Bowman's first season. They were 2-12 to finish eighth in the Mid-Illini Conference.
The top-three scorers and three of the top four rebounders are back from that squad.
Junior guard Kylie Giebelhausen returns after producing a second-team all-league season.
She tallied team-high totals of nine points and 2.5 assists per game, 53 3-pointers (making 39 percent), 37 blocks and .735 free-throw accuracy.
Bowman said he thinks Giebelhausen will do a good job.
Her opportunity for a breakout season, he said, will "hinge on how well everyone else is going to step up. The rest of the team has to keep people honest."
While Giebelhausen may have snuck up on opponents last season, teams will target her this winter.
The roles of senior forwards Courtney Potendyk and Nicole Montgomery cannot be understated.
"The two seniors really have to step up in the leadership role," Bowman said.
Potendyk will fill the same spot she did last year, a season in which she led East Peoria with 5.3 rebounds per game and was second with 6.4 ppg and 28 blocks.
Montgomery has done whatever is necessary to transition smoothly into a post role.
A year ago, she ranked third on the Raiders with 5.5 ppg and 4.3 rpg.
Ciera Montgomery is another interior option. The athletic junior worked her way into the rotation with an impressive preseason.
Junior guards Ally Watson, Sarah Kurth and Jaycie Stealy all offer the team something different, which gives East Peoria the opportunity to utilize different combinations depending on who it is playing.
Bowman complimented the trio for improving their weaknesses.
The Raiders also gained junior guard Michaela Reedy, a transfer from Notre Dame.
Watson is becoming a steady ballhandler, Kurth has upgraded her defense, Stealy brings physicality and an ability to take the ball to the rim and Reedy is athletic and likes to drive.
"We have a lot of depth in that junior class," said Bowman, who mentioned the coaching staff is trying to get across to the girls to not get caught up with who is starting.
The rest of the roster consists of: Turner MacPhee, Brooke Jacobs, Kaitlin Jenkins, Alex Forbes and Erika Kasen.
Page 2 of 2 - The major loss for East Peoria from the Class of 2012 was Savanna Tapper, the steals leader, No. 2 rebounder and No. 4 scorer who often guarded the opposition's best non-post player.
Morton, with University of Illinois bound Sarah Livingston, has won two straight M-I championships and five of the last eight.
"We're last until we prove we're not," said Bowman of his team's conference standing. "I think we have the talent to finish towards the top."
The system of last year's second-place team, Limestone, always is effective under head coach Kevin Metzger.
Dunlap returns some size, and Canton is projected to be better after winding up seventh in '11-12.
Washington is reloading with promising young players, and Metamora will be a bit of a mystery initially with its new coach.
In the league, only Pekin, which was decimated by graduation after a breakthrough season, is likely to take a significant step backwards.
"It could be a pretty bunched group," Bowman said of the conference race.
The Raiders' schedule is the same except this year it is front-loaded with home games.
Flipped from a season ago, East Peoria goes more than a month (Dec. 21-Jan. 22) between home games during the second half of the year.
The Raiders' campaign continues Thursday at Galesburg with the second of five tournament games.