Brad Dempsey is not trying to reinvent the wheel. The new Helias girls head soccer coach knows a good thing when he sees it.
"I'm not trying to change everything," Dempsey said as Helias prepares to start the season today at Waynesville. "This has been a pretty successful program."
The Lady Crusaders return a handful of starters from last year's squad that finished third in the Class 2 state championships under Chuck Register.
"We have a group of very talented girls," Dempsey said. "We have a long way to go to develop our shape, developing our fundamentals, getting on the same page, understanding what we want to do as a team.
"If we can get to where our coaching staff thinks we can get, we could be scary at the end of the season."
But it's a long road from the middle of March to the end of May.
"Developing team chemistry is something that will go on throughout the season and will be a big focus for the coaching staff and our players," Dempsey said. "It's already come a long way."
The Lady Crusaders are going through a few adjustments to what they've done in the past.
"When it comes to possessing the ball, counter-attacking, things will be a little different," Dempsey said. "The girls are adapting well."
The Lady Crusaders have featured a strong brand of defense in recent years and that doesn't figure to change this season. Liz Czarnecki, a senior, returns at goalkeeper after earning all-state honors in 2012.
Haley Bax, a senior, and junior Megan Nappier return on the outside of the Helias defense.
"Those two are phenomenal," Dempsey said.
The two spots in the middle of the defensive backfield will be held down by a combination of juniors Mackenzie Casten and Abby Rockers, along with sophomore Kaitlyn Cowell.
"All three of them will get to play," Dempsey said. "The one that doesn't start will get an opportunity."
Whitney Malzner, a senior, will also see time on the defensive end.
Taylor Hagenhoff, a senior, and junior Becky Roberts return to start as central-midfielders.
"Both are really strong players," Dempsey said. "Becky has a great knowledge of the game and Taylor is such a good athlete. When those two get on the same page, it's going to be great."
The outside midfield spots will see a combination of senior Kelsie Strope, juniors Jordan Poire and Baylee Francka, and sophomores Jane McCurren and Kendall Smith.
"All of them have very good speed and that's going to be a great asset," Dempsey said.
Tiffany Weaver, a junior, and sophomore Maddie Lammers will get the starting nods at forward. Morgan Rundle, a sophomore, along with Francka and Smith, will be in reserves.
The Lady Crusaders have put in a lot of work on restarts and set plays in an attempt to generate more dangerous offensive opportunities.
"We have some girls who can really shoot the ball and we want to take advantage of that," Dempsey said.
Weather forced the Lady Crusaders to practice inside for the first couple of weeks. While that wasn't ideal, Dempsey didn't allow the time to go to waste.
"We actually got quite a bit accomplished," he said. "We had a chance to work on ball movement and touches, which was a good place to start."
Helias will get tested early and often this season. In the first three weeks, Helias will face defending state champions in St. Dominic and Quincy (Ill.) Notre Dame, and state quarterfinalists Visitation Academy and Rock Bridge.
"We know it's going to be a long season and we're going to face some adversity and our character will be tested," Dempsey said. "But if we can continue to improve, we have the opportunity to be a really good team."
Dempsey, who played soccer at Hannibal-LaGrange University, is ready for the challenge.
"I've been around the game my whole life, it was the sport I was best at," he said. "I really love coaching and I feel like this is the right fit."
Helias' first home game is Friday against St. Dominic in a rematch of last year's semifinal contest won by St. Dominic 3-0.