Call it a part of his five-year plan.
Marshalltown head girls’ basketball coach Brian Murphy said he can finally see a foundation from which to build when he looks at this season’s roster.
The Bobcats begin anew with tonight’s 7:30 p.m. home game against South Tama County, but it won’t be a total rewrite for this winter’s Roundhouse five.
“It feels like, for one of the first times, we’re building off of what we already have in place,” said Murphy, who begins his fifth year at the helm. “From a personnel standpoint there’s been some change, but it feels like we’re at a point where we’re not starting from scratch.
“From what I’ve seen at scrimmages and in practice our confidence within the offense is just a lot better than it was almost at the end of last year, so we really do feel like we’re building off a lot of momentum we built up last year.”
The limit for nine out of the last 10 seasons, however, has been three wins. The Bobcats last won more than three games in 2014-15 (six), but Murphy said his team’s aspirations so far this preseason have been simpler.
“A lot of our goals right now are very small scale, short term,” he said. “We have been talking about that South Tama game for a year. We knew in the locker room post-game that was a game we should have won.
“We shot 4-of-24 from the free-throw line and lost by two — that math is pretty easy to do. For the immediate future, that’s where their focus us, and that’s great because it gives us something to focus on.”
South Tama’s come-from-behind, 37-35 victory over Marshalltown in last year’s season opener in Tama would be the Trojans’ lone win for the winter. The Bobcats went out and beat Des Moines East twice and Des Moines Hoover once the rest of the season, but the one that got away comes to the Roundhouse to start this campaign.
“There’s a lot of teams on our list we want to make sure we show our best game because we didn’t make our best outing last year,” Murphy said. “I’m perfectly fine with a one-game-at-a-time attitude and finding a reason to take every game a little personally.”
The Bobcats’ personnel has changed a bit, but eight members of last year’s season-ending varsity roster have returned and another is hopeful despite long odds. Sara Huffman, Marshalltown’s leading scorer (6.5 ppg) and rebounder (4.2 rpg) from a year ago, had offseason hip surgery and her timetable for recovery makes playing this season an uncertainty.
Leading the returning cast are sophomores Sydney Kapayou (5 ppg), Jorja Janssen, Kinsley Bowie and Millie Heitmann. Junior Ellie Hughes and senior Aubrie Tejada both started half of the team’s games last season. Junior Harper Wilson and senior Tania Mora both saw limited minutes off the bench, too.
The influx of freshmen Amairra Johnson and Franklie Long will help Murphy maintain his foundation for future seasons while also targeting a higher benchmark for wins in a year.
“We’ve got a lot of core sophomores but a lot of room for growth,” he said. “Watching that South Tama film from last year, some of the players don’t even look the same physically so we’re excited to see where they’ve developed both physically and mentally.”
Senior guards Esmeralda Gutierrez Cantu and Tia Gallegos round out the varsity roster.
Marshalltown’s first three games are at home, with Des Moines Roosevelt (Nov. 28) and Newton (Nov. 30) leading off girl/boy doubleheaders inside the Roundhouse after the Thanksgiving break.
Preseason Class 4A No. 4 Mason City is Murphy’s favorite in the Iowa Alliance Conference, but he hopes his Bobcats are a part of the dogfight beneath the RiverHawks.
“We know they’re the pinnacle, but really everybody else we’re all kind of in the middle and if we play up to our potential I see no reason we can’t be in that middle tier fighting for position,” Muphy said. “I feel like we should be vying for those spots. We’ve just got to make sure we come out with the right mindset and don’t revert back to previous mindsets from last year.”