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Tony Smith takes the reins of the Aquinas girls basketball program for the second time in a well-traveled Monarchs career. Smith has been on a coaching staff for 24 years at the school including this his second as girls head coach, five years as the boys head coach and 17 years as an assistant for one program or the other.

For an Aquinas lifer, he’s returning to girls hoops at what could be considered the perfect time. The Monarchs have a large senior class of 10, nine of which have significant varsity experience.

Aquinas has gone 10-13 each of the past two seasons and has not finished above .500 since the 2012-13 group went 20-5.

“Our biggest goals this year don’t have to do with wins and losses but to continue to grow together as a team. Our theme this year is ‘We’. We’re going to do a lot of things together off the floor, on the floor, we just want to keep getting better and encouraging one another to get better,” Smith said last week before practice. “But obviously, or goal, I think, is to get down to Lincoln.”

Five years ago, trips to the state tournament were somewhat of a regular occurrence. Aquinas hadn’t been to state since 2009 but went three times from that season through 2013. The 2008-09 team finished as runners-up while 2011 went 1-2 and 2013 lost in the first round.

Looking to return is a senior class that includes Morgan Birkel, Valerie and Vanessa Bohuslavsky, Faith Kozisek, Jadyn Krafka, Sierra Meysenburg, Kloe Ruth, Larissa Sellers, Breanna Stouffer and Micaiah Vrbka.

Stouffer led the team in scoring as a freshman and sophomore while the Bohuslavskys and Vrbka played extensively their first year.

Vrbka was not out a year ago but has since returned to the program.

A year ago, eight players appeared in more than 20 games for a group that scored 47-6 points on average, shot the ball at a rate of 30 percent and went through large swings of progress and regress.

Aquinas started 2-0, dropped five in a row, won five straight then eventually finished by losing four of the last five.

“With 10 seniors, and four juniors also with playing experience, we can go 13, 14 deep. We’re going to run, we’ll try to play up-tempo and we’ll try to play defense right away on makes and misses,” Smith said. “We’re going to be an up-tempo, high-pressure type of team.”

Experience will be a valuable tool against a schedule that includes the Centennial Conference slate with six state tournament teams and a non-conference slate that features three other teams that advanced to Lincoln.

“The conference is really deep. It will make us better at the end of the year,” Smith said. “At the end, we play in a sub-district with both Wahoo and Wahoo Neumann. Our goal to get to Lincoln is going to be tough, but I think it’s a good goal for us.”

Though Aquinas finished three games below .500 a year ago, the girls also won the David City Holiday Tournament.

“The girls will have to adapt to a new system and a new style of coaching,” Smith said. “Our team will be deep at every spot and have a chance to be very competitive.”

Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of the The Baner-Press. Reach him via email at DVDsports@lee.net

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