While he’s only in his second year as a head coach of the Providence girls’ basketball team, Pioneer coach Brad Burden can already say his team is far ahead of where it sat one season ago.

And the reason is simple.

“Just because it is the second year,” said Burden. “Last year, everything was completely new for this program. Coach. System. Across the board. It probably took at least two weeks just for everyone to get acclimated to what the coaches expected and what it was going to take to play in our system. This year, we all know, which puts us way ahead of where we were at this point last year.”

The new regime got off to a rocky start a year as Providence opened the 2008-09 season with six consecutive losses, but as the year progressed, so did the Pioneer team.

Providence went 6-8 over the last 14 games and was one-point away from a sectional victory against Paoli in the Class 2A Austin Sectional opening round.

This year, the top four scorers and three of the top four rebounders all return for the Pioneers, including leading scorer and rebounder Megan Eve. The senior averaged 14.8 points per game last year as a junior, but she missed summer workouts after a knee injury she suffered during sectional play.

Eve was cleared to return to normal basketball activities in October and has practiced in full with the squad since opening day earlier this month.

“She’s 100 percent clear and good to go,” said Burden. “There hasn’t been any limitations and she’s been ready to get back on the court for months so she’s really looking forward to the season.”

Among the other returnees is sophomore point guard Leah White (8 points per game), junior Kallie Ash (8 ppg) and Katy Flanagan (6 ppg). Sophomore Abby Schwartz, who battled injuries as a freshman last season, will play minutes in the post for this season.

“We’re looking for our core to be around seven players with four or five freshman capable of rotating in from the (junior varsity) from game-to-game,” Burden said. “Having that core seven being players that have played varsity helps, but we still are a young. Out of our top seven, we’ll have four sophomores, a junior and two seniors so we still have work to do.”

That work started on Tuesday as the Pioneers opened the year against Class 3A North Harrison. On Friday, Providence host defending Class 2A sectional and regional champion Austin at the Larkin Center in a game the Pioneers are billing as a “white-out” for fans.

Providence has also tweaked its opening slate of games as its traditional contest against New Albany had to be rescheduled to a later date, and Madison Shawe, Rock Creek Christian Pekin Eastern were added to its 2009-10 slate.

“We changed our schedule. Not necessarily will it be easier for us, but it will now be better for us as we build our program,” said Burden. “The way we have opened in past years needed to be worked around, and we did that and we added some new opponents that it will be interesting to see how we match up against.”

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