Atlantic County Institute of Technology girls basketball coach Charlie Blank knows the odds are stacked against his team in its first varsity season.
But the Red Hawks' record won't be all that matters for a team made up almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores.
"Our goal is to build a program," Blank said. "I think the young ladies that I'm coaching have bought into it that if they work hard, a quality team and a good basketball program will come.
"We've talked about it, and it's not going to be easy. It's going to take time."
Blank expects to start three freshmen: Point guard Natalie Niederhofer, shooting guard Yasmeen Nelson and 5-foot-9 forward Tamia Taylor.
"It's certainly something great to look forward to, knowing what the potential is," Blank said. "Those three kids all have the potential to be outstanding players. So, yeah, it is exciting. And I've been around the block. … To have the opportunity to be the coach of a first-year varsity program that's just getting underway, it is exciting and challenging."
Blank, a retired teacher who played for the University of Maryland, coached Edgewood - now Winslow Township - to the state Group III title in 1980.
Blank has his work cut out for him. The Red Hawks' top player from last season's junior-varsity team, forward Megan Peterson, hurt her back in an automobile accident over the summer and likely won't play.
But Blank's team improved with every game on its JV schedule last season, and he expects similar progress this season.
Contact Jason Mazda:
League: Cape-Atlantic League United Division
Group: South Jersey Group II
Coach: Charlie Blank (first season)
2011-12 record: First varsity season
2012-13 prediction: Building - The Red Hawks will start three freshmen, though they might have the talent to surprise some teams.
Key players: Jenna Hoagland, Sr., C, 5-9; Erika Quarton, Sr., G, 5-4; Markey Lewis, So., G, 5-4; Amber Lombardi, So., F, 5-6; Tattyianna Sanderlin, So., F, 5-9; Lilly Kinman, So., C, 5-7.
Top newcomers: Natalie Niederhofer, Fr., PG, 5-2; Yasmeen Nelson, Fr., G, 5-5; Tamia Taylor, Fr., F, 5-9; Courtney Hartman, Fr., C, 5-10; Tekyyah Harrell James, Fr., F, 5-6; Isabelle Hennaut, Fr., G, 5-5.
Dec. 14: at Cape May Tech, 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 17: vs. Sacred Heart, 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 20: vs. Cedar Creek, 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 27: vs. Absegami at Wildwoods Convention Center, 11 a.m.
Dec. 28: vs. TBD at Wildwoods Convention Center, time TBA Jan. 3: at Buena Regional, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 7: at Wildwood Catholic, 7 p.m.
Jan. 10: vs. St. Joseph, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 14: vs. Pleasantville, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 16: at Sacred Heart, 7 p.m.
Jan. 19: vs. Gateway Regional, 10 a.m.
Jan. 23: vs. Schalick, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 26: vs. Cape May Tech, 12:30 p.m.
Jan. 28: at Cedar Creek, 7 p.m.
Jan. 31: vs. Buena Regional, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 1: at Pennsauken Tech, 5:15 p.m.
Feb. 4: vs. Wildwood Catholic, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 8: at Woodstown, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 11: at Pleasantville, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 12: vs. Pennsville, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 20: at Woodbury, 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 25: at Wildwood, 5:30 p.m.