It is unclear how the Harvard-Westlake girls' basketball team will fill the void left by Omelogo Udeze.
This much is certain in the players' minds--they will get the job done.
The Wolverines return three starters from last year's state Division III runner-up team, and the consensus among the players is the team hasn't lost a step.
"I think we can go just as far," said L'Tanya Robnett, a senior guard-forward. "It just depends on us. We have as much talent as we did last year. . . . We're just looking forward to next year and getting back [to the state championship] again and coming out on top."
Robnett joins seniors Brooke Porter and Rolake Bamgbose as returning starters. Although the season is months away, the Wolverines are wasting no time getting ready.
Harvard-Westlake is playing in the War on the Floor tournament this week at Pierce College, and got things rolling by defeating Rolling Hills Prep, 55-18, on Wednesday.
Harvard-Westlake defeated Taft Wednesday night, 36-24, and advanced to the quarterfinals tonight at 6:40 p.m.
The Wolverines' starting five looked impressive, holding Rolling Hills Prep to two points in the 14 minutes they played. Forwards Robnett and Bamgbose dominated on the boards and each scored nine points.
Reserves and members of the junior varsity played the majority of the game, trying to impress and earn a spot on the roster.
"I think [there were] a lot of girls on the team last [season] that had talents but really didn't get to show they could play, because the offense was so based around one player," Robnett said. "But now with her gone, everyone gets to show that they can play. So this [season], we have more of everyone contributing and everyone can score."
The 6-foot-2 Udeze, The Times' Valley player of the year, averaged 21.1 points and 10 rebounds.
Porter, Robnett and Bamgbose combined to average more than 30 points last season, and should increase those totals next season.
"We have a lot of experience," Coach Brian Taylor of Harvard-Westlake said. "The question is who will step up and take over for O. She was our MVP. It will probably wind up that all three will get a couple more shots a game. We'll be asking them to do more things for us. "
Porter, a 5-5 point guard, was an All-Valley selection. She averaged 11.1 points, 6.2 assists and three steals.
"I think we're a different team," Porter said. "I don't think we're any worse, or any one person is going to pick up the slack. As a team, everyone is going to pick up a few points here and there, and together make up for her loss.
"We don't have anyone as powerful as she was, as big as she was. It will be more spread out over a bunch of different people."
Robnett, a 6-foot guard-forward and second-team All-Valley selection, averaged 10 points and 3.6 assists.
The 6-2 Bamgbose averaged 9.3 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.1 blocked shots, and will be among the Wolverines' top post players.
Two additions to Harvard-Westlake's starting lineup are Erin Stepheson, a junior sidelined much of last season with an injured hand, and junior Chantal Kazay, a transfer from Louisville.
Stepheson was slated to be a starter last season before her injury. She is back to 100% and scored six points on Wednesday.
The 6-foot Kazay will add a presence in the post.
"She'll bring really good defense and rebounding," Taylor said. "Those will be the things that make us stand out. She's not a high scorer, but she is capable of scoring."
Harvard-Westlake lost the state Division III championship game to Lafayette Acalanes, 47-42, and led with 1:38 to play.
Players said they have all but forgotten the loss, but Taylor knows better.
"It's in our minds," Taylor said. "I think the positive side will be that getting there once gives you experience. Hopefully, if you can get there again, you know what it takes to put close games away.
"The pain never goes away. You still think about it, being so close, but yet no cigar."