Tamar Hill is setting out to redefine the La Cañada High girls' basketball team this season.
The Spartans are looking to transition from a powerhouse on offense to a stalwart on defense. La Cañada's offense carried the team last year, but the squad will need defense to be its backbone this season after graduating nine seniors — and all but one starter — last year.
La Cañada went 24-4 last year (10-0 in league) en route to their first Rio Hondo League title in four years. The Spartans' season ended in the CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA semifinals when they fell to Atascadero, 53-51.
Hill, who is in her 11th season as coach, is expecting this year's story line to read a little differently.
"We definitely want to make it to playoffs and be competitive in league," Hill said. "The team set a lot of high goals for themselves and it's going to take a lot of hard work to get there. We're crossing our fingers that they can keep up the momentum, start winning some games, gaining some confidence and go from there."
Courtney McCutchan and Tia Chen are the team's biggest losses from last year.
McCutchan, a forward, was named an all-tournament player in each tournament she played in last year. She led the Spartans in scoring and blocked shots and was second in rebounds and assists. Chen ran the team's offense at point guard, leading the Spartans in assists and was second in scoring.
Losing both offensive leaders forces La Cañada to ride through this season with some strong defense.
"We're going to have to be a strong defensive team and make sure we're playing hard," said Hill, who hopes a lock-down defense will open up opportunities on offense. "You can always play good defense."
Hopes are La Cañada will also be known as a team that hustles, as well as one that gets after every rebound and loose ball, Hill said.
Point guard Kristene Hossepian and forward Alexa Barsamian will provide La Cañada with leadership this year, as they are the only two seniors on the team. Hossepian will fill the point-guard vacancy left by Chen after playing shooting guard in 2009-10.
"We're really going to draw on her experience — she's going to be huge," Hill said of Hossepian.
Courtney Chen will look to fill part of the gap at point guard by her older sister, Tia. Although Courtney, a freshman, is unfamiliar with the team's offensive scheme, she's proven worthy of solid minutes at point guard, Hill said.
"Usually you have at least six or seven returners who kind of know the offense already and it's easier to teach the newcomers," Hill said. "Now we have two returners who know the offense, so there's a greater offensive learning curve going on right now."