CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Winfield girls head basketball Coach Tim Toler heads into his sixth season with what could prove to be one of his most challenging years since taking over the program in 2008.
"We are very low on numbers right now for multiple reasons and that is our biggest obstacle," Toler said last week. "We potentially have six or seven girls joining us (this week). They just came off of a state championship win for soccer and we want them to come back fresh."
Toler is taking steps of patience in order to fill the pieces for a team he hopes can make a strong postseason tournament run.
"We started our season on Monday with a typical practice. The soccer girls finished their season the previous Saturday and could have made it to practice, but I wanted them to have the week off," Toler said. "We need them as fresh as possible, because conditioning is going to be critical this year to step up our pace of game."
Players are not only missing because of soccer. Some are entering the season with newly acquired injuries.
Senior forward/guard Mackenzie Arthur (5-foot-10) heads into knee surgery with no time frame for a return. Junior forward Jayne Lawman (5-9) also finished her soccer season with a foot injury affecting what could be a long season for the Generals.
Toler plans to work around these injuries and use the amount of girls he has to work toward tournament play. Winfield enters the season off a 13-12 finish in 2012-13 and needs to replace its two leading scorers from a year ago. Haeley Moore (11.0 points per game) led the team in scoring last season while Mara Rhodes averaged 10.2 points.
Junior shooting guard Haylea Roberson (5-5) leads Winfield's returnees in scoring. She averaged 8.4 points per game as a sophomore.
"Although our numbers were thin for this first week of practice, we are working on a lot of ball handling, conditioning, rotations, and simple foot movement," Toler said. "It is very difficult to go through drills and game preparation without an entire team there, but we are definitely preparing the girls we have."
Toler is focusing on a change of style this that he said will test his roster and possibly make them an element of surprise by the start of sectional play in February.
"We can focus on fundamentals, which are always important, but all teams work to improve those every year," Toler said. "We have begun working on improving our fundamental game, but I am encouraging a lot of conditioning this year more than anything. We have to start our season with a faster-paced game and I need this team to start realizing that immediately.
"It will be a long process of change, but it will make us contenders," he said. "If we get our numbers back up, and continue this practice style then our success will show."
Winfield opens its regular season Dec. 13 at Ripley. The Generals' first home game is Dec. 17, against Princeton.