After losing its entire backcourt to graduation, defending Big 10 champion Bridgeport will face a pair of the conference's most dangerous guards as the Indians play host to Lewis County as girls high school basketball tips off tonight.
Elsewhere in the league, Robert C. Byrd will visits Grafton, Liberty will be home against Philip Barbour and Lincoln will travel to South Harrison. Also in the area, Notre Dame will play host to Morgantown Trinity.
In Bridgeport, the Indians will go with three new guards when they take on the Minutemaids. However, Dave Marshall's team brings what is likely the most dominant frontcourt in the conference with Theresa Melko (14.5 ppg.) and Lauren Kerr (7.7 ppg.).
"(Melko and Kerr) to some extent will have to carry us, especially early until we get a little more experienced," Marshall said. "Not just offensively and defensively, but emotionally.
"They're very strong and athletic, and I think they can do the job for us."
Sarah Snider (4.7 ppg.), who was last season's defensive stopper, will move to the point. Her task will to try and contain Lewis County's Lindsay Casto (9.9 ppg.) and Audra Hall (7.7 ppg.). The two combined for 30 3-pointers last season, tops in the Big 10.
"We're young up there, you have a tendency to relax mentally and not be in position to defend the three," Marshall said. "With the kids they have, it only takes a split second for them to get it off. That's a concern and I'm anxious to see how we handle it."
At Liberty, the Mountaineers are led by returning first-team Big 10 player Katy Orndorff (13.2 ppg.). Liberty will miss the presence of Lindsay Brown inside, but return Amy Curry (4.7 ppg.), Jessica Lamont (5.3 ppg.) and Kelli Yednak (3.9 ppg.).
After an impressive freshman season, Gina Ware (11.2 ppg.) is part of a solid guard duo along with Tiffany Thompson (10.4 ppg.) that can help make the Colts a legitimate contender for the Big 10.
Amber Kelley (6.4 ppg.) returns, as well to give Philip Barbour three proven scoring threats.
After finishing second last season, the Grafton Bearcats are one of the favorites to contend for the conference crown. All-conference performer Heather McDaniel (11.1 ppg.) is back for coach Rich Bord. Janel O'Brien (7.6 ppg.) gives the Bearcats a solid inside presence, while defensive specialist Tia Lafferty (5.8 ppg.) is back as well.
The Eagles are led by Keisha Bowsman (13.8 ppg.) and guard Eva Costa (5.7 ppg.).
Lincoln will try and snap a 23-game losing streak when it visits South Harrison. Senior Brandi Brown (11.0 ppg.) is back for the Cougars.
Desiree Evans (10.9 ppg., 23 3-pointers) leads the Hawks.
Notre Dame will field a girls team for the first time since the mid '90s. Freshman sensation Mallory Menendez leads the Fighting Irish against Morgantown Trinity.
All games tip off at 7:30 p.m.
Sports writer Mike Nutter can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org