Last year, in Jimmie Gerald's one season as head coach, the Patriots went 2-16. They had a legitimate scoring threat in Taj Baldwin, a transfer from Florida who averaged 19.5 points a game — nearly 57 percent of the team's total. But she graduated — she now plays at the University of the District of Columbia — leaving the cupboard just about empty.

Hester was hired in July. For the first workout he scheduled, four of the 505 female students enrolled at Denbigh showed up. For the first official day of practice in October, 12 came out. That's for both varsity and JV, and even that took some work.

"I happened to be at a rec league tryout, and there was this young lady there," Hester said. "I found out she went to Passage Middle School, which feeds this school. I told her, 'Well, if you want to play high school ball, I've got a spot for you.' The next day, she was here. She's on the JV team now.

"I've got another kid out there who was the manager with the boys' team. Today's her first day out here. She wants to give it a shot."

Of the six players on varsity (eight are on JV), only Redmond and Bradford played last season. Redmond is the Patriots' top scorer at 8.2 points a game; Bradford is next at 3.4 ppg. Together, account for 60 percent of Denbigh's offense.

Most on the team are like Jessica Kaewnork, a junior who literally could not make a layup in August. But she's scored 15 points this season and is the team's most improved player.

"It's been a great experience and I've learned a lot," she said. "I'm thankful to be playing on a team."

Yet tradition is a hard thing to overcome. Denbigh's last winning season came in 1997-98, when Wanda Marinke coached the Patriots to records of 14-6 overall, 13-5 in the PD.

Since then, Denbigh has had 15 consecutive losing seasons. That's the longest current drought in the Peninsula District.

But there's always hope. Kecoughtan went into the weekend with 17 wins and tied for first place in the district standings. Four years ago, the Warriors finished 1-20 and didn't have enough girls in the program for a JV team.

"We've had 15 years of losing seasons, and that won't change overnight," Weaver said. "It's a process. It'll take one season at a time and the girls understanding what we're doing."

As for now, even with loss after loss, there's the thrill of competing. And small victories.