It might not be full of seasoned vets yet, but the Thomas More Prep-Marian girls basketball team boasts far more varsity experience entering this season than it did a year ago.

"The nice thing is we've had these girls for a few years and they know our system and our program," TMP-Marian coach Rose McFarland said. "It's a lot of teaching, but a lot of review as well."

Last year, the Monarchs entered the year with just a couple of experienced returners, but still found a way to claim another Mid-Continent League title. Key returners this year include seniors Adell Riedel and Kallyn DeWitt, junior Kyleigh Allen and sophomore Emilee Lane. Junior Sasha Wasinger and sophomore Megan Hamel also saw significant minutes at times.

"We do have some returning starters, but there are some big holes to fill because Emily Shippers and Jillian Lowe carried a lot of the load last year," McFarland said. "We have two seniors, four juniors and six sophomores. There's a lot of new faces out there still."

TMP will open the season in the Hays City Shootout against Olathe West at 3 p.m. Thursday at Hays High. The Monarchs finished 15-6 last year, ending the season in the sub-state semifinals with a loss to Russell.

"They're all good kids," McFarland said of her team.  "They've got good attitudes and they work hard. Some of them put in some time in the summer and I think that's really going to show and pay dividends for us this year. We've got some good balance and some good post players and then we've got some shooters on the outside."

McFarland said the Monarchs always look forward to testing themselves in the Hays City Shootout. The winner of the TMP-Olathe West game will face the winner of the Hays High-Life Prep game in Friday's semifinals. The other side of the bracket features Great Bend vs. Manhattan and Free State vs. Millwood (Okla).

"It's always good competition, and you can't shy away from good competition," McFarland said. "It usually exposes our weaknesses. Right off the bat, we're going to know the areas we really need to work on and maybe our strength of what we did well. But it exposes our weaknesses, and I like that. We get to play against different kinds of teams you don't see all year. If we can improve on those weaknesses, and make them a strength, it just makes our team better as we go through the season."

McFarland said she expects stiff competition from every team in the Mid-Continent League.

"This year I think there's more balance from top to bottom," McFarland said. "I don't think there's going to be any easy games out there for anybody. There's a lot of good talent in our league."