This was supposed to be an off year for the Carlton girls' basketball team.
At least if you listened to the critics out there who said last year's success was nothing more than a one-woman show.
Crusaders star Erica Gavel, who now plays for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, was considered one of the best players in the province last season. Because of that, and the fact Carlton lost several other Grade 12s, the assumption was this year's team would be in something of a rebuilding process.
Not so much.
Carlton has merely won gold in its first two tournaments this season, leaving the Crusaders sporting a rather fashionable 7-0 record.
"We lost a lot of Grade 12s last year, and I think the understanding from the general public was that we would be weak this year considering what we had lost," Carlton coach Jennifer Ferguson said Tuesday. "But we had eight returning players, including three starters, so we have them back and they're all doing really well.
"I think last year people thought we were one-dimensional - we didn't think so - but many people said, 'Well, you have one of the best players in Saskatchewan (Gavel) and you rely on her too much.'
"Now we're getting a chance to prove (them wrong), and with those returning players taking a big bulk of the scoring ... we've had a pretty good start."
And the key early this year has been balance. If it's not Dalyce Emmerson, it's Racquel Marshall. If it's not Marshall, it's Rae Braaten. If it's not Braaten, it's Laura Halyk. If it's not Halyk, it might be one of the four Grade 9s on the team. You get the picture.
"We don't really have one player that teams can focus on," said Ken Morrison, the X's and O's coach. "We're balanced. Last year, we ran into a lot of defences that were focused on just trying to shut one player (Gavel) down, so I think it will be tougher for teams to do that this year. We can play lots of people and play a fast-paced game, and try and tire other teams out."
Carlton has also been playing stifling defence. More than once, they've limited the opposition to zero or two points for an entire quarter.
And much of that defensive success can be attributed to the schematics of Morrison, a Prince Albert Raider sniper extraordinaire in the 1980s who has developed Carlton into a 4A basketball stronghold at the top of the province.
"We always expect to be in the top four in the province," Ferguson said. "Basically, since Ken Morrison came here, we've been in the top four in our category and we expect nothing different this year.
"He came here five years ago, and he won't say this, but he is the reason for our success. We did not win before he came. He's the brains behind the operation."
Braaten added: "He's really intense, but that's good for us and we like him. He gets us going and he's really focused."
Good coaching, balanced play and shutdown defence. Usually a gourmet recipe for success.
The Crusaders host their annual invitational tournament this week and will open the competition Friday at 6:30 p.m. against Yorkton.