SHERIDAN — The last time the Arvada-Clearmont High School girls basketball team took to the court for a game was for the state title match March 2 in Casper.

The Lady Panthers’ run to the state title game last year was an exciting time for the team and the community, head coach Sarah Walker said.

The end result was not what the Lady Panthers hoped, losing to Cokeville High School 64-40, but the team felt like more could have been accomplished.

“I think the girls are still hungry,” Walker said. “We did not walk away from the season like we accomplished everything we set out to accomplish last year. That leaves them hungry and knowing what it will take to do it again.”

Senior Kailai Beam said the success from last season allowed the team and individuals to be recognized on the state level, making a name for Lady Panthers basketball.

Teams across the state know who ACHS is now and will be ready for the Lady Panthers, something new for the team.

“It is going to be different for sure, we have been overlooked in the past,” senior McKenna Auzqui said. “I think the statement we made last year will for sure get some heads looking our way early on in the year.”

The Lady Panthers know what it takes to reach the title game and will attempt to return to the big stage this year. The Lady Panthers are focused on the present and know they need to build a strong foundation.

The games and practices before winter break are a time to build the foundation the team needs, Auzqui said.

Walker said the Lady Panthers treat this time of the year as preseason basketball. The goal is to bring the younger players up to speed and see what plays will stick when entering game situations.

The Lady Panthers will begin games Dec. 13-14 when they participate in the Upton Invite.

Walker said coaches are always anxious this time of the year. She is interested to see what parts of the offense will translate from practice to game speed. So far, the Lady Panthers have been able to install a lot of their offense because of the experience returning to the team.

The biggest question Walker has for this group is the youth at the guard position. ACHS graduated both of its main ball handlers in Brooke Worman and All-State selection and 1A Northeast player of the year Kristin Klaahsen. Walker said she is looking for freshmen to step into the ball-handling role with many of them having point guard experience in junior high. The young players will need to adjust to the high school level.

Walker said the freshmen will not be the only players handling the ball. She expects her team to play positionless basketball and everyone will be expected to handle the ball at some point. Auzqui was named to the All-State team for the past two seasons, and she — along with the other seniors — are expected to help guide the younger players.

Senior Ashlyn Fennema said the Lady Panthers will build up their defense again this year, an important aspect of their team.

“Defense wins championships and that is a big part of our program is our defense,” Fennema said. “We need to get that solid and just knock the rust off in the first couple of weeks.”

While the Lady Panthers are a top team returning this year and expectations are high, the team needs to play basketball and stick to its own game to be successful, Auzqui said.

The team plays its best when its members are having fun.

Following the Upton Invite, the Lady Panthers will host Ten Sleep to open conference play Jan. 4.

The girls will play at 2 p.m., followed by the boys.