Nordonia girls basketball coach Julie Buckler knows this winter is going to be a challenge.

With only two seniors on the squad and one in the starting lineup, Nordonia is going to be young this winter.

What’s more, for the second straight year, the injury bug has bitten the Knights hard before the season started.

The Knights have lost starting point guard — senior Dominique Evans — to a torn ACL suffered during the summer. She may be lost for the season.

Despite this, Buckler believes her team has what it takes to contend in the Suburban League National Conference.

"That’s absolutely one of our goals," she said. "We have some great pieces and parts, and we’re just trying to figure out how all the parts fit together. I think this team can definitely make a statement."

Even though Nordonia has much youth, Bucker said there are several experienced players returning from last year’s team that finished 11-12 overall and 7-7 in the National Conference. The Knights lost in the district semifinals.

Only guard Sion Williams was lost to graduation.

Buckler wants the Knights to be a running team.

"We talk a lot about looking for our offense in our transition and being patient in our offense if we don’t get a layup right away," she said. "We have some great athletes, and I’m excited to see what’s to come for them."

Leading the way for Nordonia will be senior guard/forward Lizzie Imrie.

"Lizzie tore her ACL in the very first scrimmage last year and missed the entire season. We’re very excited to have her back," said Buckler. "She’s a great leader on the court and off the court. She’s a huge communicator.

"Lizzie has an expectation for what she wants her teammates to do and where she expects them to be, and she doesn’t let up. Whatever she says, she does. She’s not one of those kids who expects her teammates to do more than she does. She’s just a natural in her leadership role. She has the ability offensively and defensively to do great things for us this year."

Also returning from a year ago are juniors Maddy Cluse, a guard/forward, and Hallie Majoros, a guard.

"Maddy is a big contributor to us offensively and defensively, not just with points but with rebounds and all the other little things that she provides," Buckler said. "She has the ability to take over any time she wants to, in my opinion. She just has a natural athletic ability and a great basketball IQ. She’s able to read and react to different things that are happening during a game. That’s one of those things that’s just an innate thing and is hard to teach.

"Hallie is a great shooter. She put in a ton of work in the offseason and has put herself in a position to be more of a threat offensively. She’s one of our best defenders, too, so a lot of times she’s defending one of the other team’s leading scorers if not its leading scorer."

Two sophomores returning from last season are forward Kennedy Syllaba and guard Ella Gorta.

"Kennedy is coming back from a broken ankle suffered in the summer," said the coach. "She’s working to get back to 100 percent healthy. She’s slowly but surely getting there. She did a lot of the little things last year that don’t always get the attention. She was a solid player who played hard.

"Ella got some decent minutes last year. She’s one of those play-hard kids. She’s going to do whatever you ask of her with maximum effort, and that’s all you can ask of her. Both she and Ella had to step up big time for us last year."

Also on the team are senior guard Danae Williams, junior forward DeeDee Adkins, sophomore guard Carmella Hack, sophomore forward Marybella Dunlap, freshman guard/forward Madison McMillan and freshman guard Taylor Root.

According to Buckler, the top teams in the National Conference will be Wadsworth and Stow-Munroe Falls.

"Both of those teams always compete no matter what. They’re very consistent in what they do," she said. "There are other teams that can compete in the conference, but those two are our main competition."

Buckler’s assistant coaches are Ryan Flinn, Matt Spellman and Sandra Spellman.

Nordonia is scheduled to open the season at home against North Canton Hoover Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m.