NORTH MANCHESTER – Normally, defending conference champions don’t make a lot of changes. But with a new coach and the graduation of key players, the Manchester girls basketball team is making adjustments in preparation for the 2019-20 season.

“It's going to be a little bit different this year,” said head coach Josh Troyer, who served as an assistant to Jacob Everett. “We went 17-8, but we had four starters graduate.

“We basically played seven deep last year, so we return three with legitimate varsity experience; people who played more than 4-5 minutes a game. So we're definitely a younger group, but a group who are very athletic and have been together one to three years, and some for four years now. So we have familiarity we me and my system, and we aren't doing things a lot different from when Jake was here, so that helps.

“But we're a little greener on the varsity side this year.”

But rather than wholesale changes that often come with a new head coach, Troyer feels it’s more of a matter of smaller adjustments.

“It's been a pretty easy transition. Between Jake and I, our coaching styles and overall philosophy are very similar,” the new coach said. “How we go about things may be a little bit different. I'm probably a little more vocal and straightforward, and he a little bit more energetic while I'm a little more even keeled.

“So it's a little bit different for me in practice, trying to bring that energy and trying to get the girls to bring energy as well. I think we've made a pretty good transition, but we obviously still have a lot to work on. Our style is changing, not due to the coaching change but because our personnel is a bit different this year, and we're tweaking the way we play to fit the personnel we have.”

One fact of athletic life at the high school level is coaches adjust to the skill set of the players available to them, combining the system they want to run with the abilities up and down the lineup. Last season, the Lady Squires played primarily in a half-court set. Not so much this year, according to Troyer.

"We want to play a lot more in transition,” he said. “We talk a lot about 'we want to score in eight seconds or less.' We're really trying to instill the idea of playing fast.

“We feel our personnel fits that; they're very athletic and like making those quick decisions. We're trying to play to that strength, but there's some growing pains. In years past we ran when we could but we played more in the half-court. This year we really are trying to run first and play in the half court if we have to.”

But in learning to play that way, there are going to be turnovers, especially early in the season. Troyer understands, and is OK, with that.

"To me, it's all about 'per possession.' If we have 70 offensive possessions and have 20 turnovers, that a lot different than 40 possessions and 20 turnovers,” said Troyer. “We have girls who are very dynamic in the full court, so giving them those scoring opportunities is important.

“I think right now we're better in the full court than in the half court, but with that you have to give them the freedom to make a mistake. If not, then they're not going to run. They'd rather not take that risk to get the reward.

“This summer we made some turnovers, but we encouraged them to keep throwing the ball ahead. We're finally starting to see them running into those passes, rather than the ball going over our heads."

On defense, creating turnovers is arguably the key in establishing a run-first mentality. That means pressing the opposing ball handlers into making mistakes.

"We're probably going to play a lot of zone press, and press in the full court. We haven't got all our stuff in yet, but we don't want to overload at this point in the year,” Troyer said.

“We want to be able to dictate tempo, whether or not we're making shots. I'm a graduate of Grace College, and I want to mesh with what the girls are doing at Grace, where they're up and down the floor, they're pressing and getting the misses. I'd like to see our program evolve into that, and with this group of girls we can play at least three-quarters court, extend pressure and make teams play our style.”

The last key to being an up-tempo team is the ability to always rotate fresh players into the game. Depth can take a game that’s close at halftime and turn it into a blowout.

"We're a deeper group; we have 12 to 13 that can play varsity level, where some teams in the area can play 8 to 10. If we can get to where they have to play our style of basketball, that would make us hard to beat this year."

The Three Rivers Conference looks to be well-balanced, and this year’s champion will have worked hard to earn the title.

"Even the teams that have struggled are really coming up,” Troyer said. “Maconaquah is going to be a really tough program; Coach (P.J.) Hatcher has them doing a lot of great things. Coach (David) Weeks is doing a lot of good stuff at Peru; they're getting stronger. Rochester has a really good freshman class for Coach (Brian)?Jennings that's coming in to blend in with their older players.

“Valley is just deeper; they don't have a Sophie Bussard, which is a huge loss for them. She was the most unselfish player I've ever watched. But sometimes when you have someone like that, her teammates defer to her. Now those players will step up bigger this year and make that team as tough as any team this year.

“So there are a lot of great programs in the TRC, and last year we were a few possessions not going our way and not winning the conference. I don't think it will be any different this year.”

Troyer isn’t taking an approach of this year’s Lady Squires needing to defend its crown. Instead, the mentality is to create a legacy separate from last year’s accomplishment.

“The main thing I try to tell the girls is we're going to try to be champions this year, one step at a time,” he said. “We're not focused on repeating as conference champions. And that's what makes it special and fun; we get to go on that same journey again, but in a new way. I'm excited to see what this young group can do.”

Manchester opens its season tonight, hosting Triton at 7:30 p.m.