Keeping up that momentum will be the responsibility of new coach Natalie Vuoriaho, who was named to the post in May.
Vuoriaho – who coached the girls’ basketball team at Independence High School in Charlotte, N.C. the last few years – replaced Mike House, who is now the girls’ basketball coach at Druid Hills.
Maintaining the level of success of the last couple years will be a challenge for Vuoriaho, who inherits a younger team that lost leading scorers and Division I signees Kylee Smith (Vanderbilt) and Lauren Brown (Elon) to graduation as well as point guard Vashnie Perry, who transferred to Norcross.
“We’re really young this year,” Vuoriaho said. “We lost Lauren Brown and Kylee Smith and they were a huge part of the Alpharetta program for the last few years. There is a huge expectation to continue to grow the program and we have a lot of young talent on the team. We only have two seniors this year and both of them are getting plenty of playing minutes and are helping the program out, helping the young players continue to grow in high school-level basketball.”
The youth has been a factor for Alpharetta (1-2), as it got the season off to a slow start at the Parkview Thanksgiving tournament in Norcross.
The Lady Raiders opened the tournament with a 72-27 loss to defending Class AA champion Wesleyan Nov. 23, then came back strongly to beat Heritage 70-27 Nov. 25 before losing to 2012 AA title holder Lovett 54-38 Nov. 26.
“It was a great opportunity for the young players to get some playing time,” Vuoriaho said.
Injuries have also been a factor for Alpharetta, which lost 5-foot-11 senior power forward Nicole King to a sprained ankle and 5-6 sophomore Nebrina Harton to a sprained shoulder during the tournament.
Both players were expected to be back for the Lady Raiders’ 6AAAAAA opener against Lambert Tuesday.
Alpharetta is boosted by the return of 6-4 senior center Brittany Outlaw, who gives the team a strong presence under the basket.
Five-foot-11 forward Teja Finely, 5-4 junior point guard Asia Gill and 5-10 freshman forward Maya Dodson are also expected to play key roles for the Lady Raiders.
Despite the youth of the team, Vuoriaho is confident that Alpharetta will once again contend for the 6AAAAAA title and return to the state tournament.
“I definitely see growth in this team from the first day of practice,” Vuoriaho said. “They are starting to click and they understand what I’m asking for, defensively and offensively. As long as we continue to grow, we will have a successful season.”