Misericordia is in year one. Wilkes in year two. Even King's has had to make changes on the fly this season.
It's been a season of transitions for Freedom Conference women's basketball teams in the area. While the Cougars and Lady Colonels have recently undergone coaching changes, the Lady Monarchs have lost a pair of starters to injury in the past month.
In the midst of change, all three programs are right in the middle of the conference race as they head into the meat of the schedule.
That change is most pronounced at Misericordia, where first-year coach Allison Kern has the Cougars running an entirely different system this year.
Running being the key word.
Last season, the Cougars were far more deliberate on offense and had the benefit of record-setting center Christine Marks to take over games in the paint while opening things up for teammates on the perimeter.
Marks has since graduated and Kern has her inaugural squad playing up-tempo, sprinting from end-to-end on the court. For the Cougars, it's radically different.
It is, Kern said. But given our personnel, it's very conducive to playing to our strengths as a team. So I think the kids like it and it's been pretty effective for us.
Whereas last year's conference championship team relied heavily on just seven players, that number has at times hit 10 players this season, even with veteran starter Katie Drayton out with an injury.
With several returning players from last year's team, some adjustments had to be made.
Fitness, for one, Kern said. Because they haven't ever had to (play this system). More than that, I think it's just been the growing pains of a lot of kids having significant roles who haven't before.
That's a big adjustment for young kids, for sure.
In the context of this season, Wilkes' lineup has been a model of consistency. The Lady Colonels have started the same five players in 14 of 15 games, including the last 13 straight.
That familiarity has helped Wilkes jump out to a 10-5 start under second-year coach Chris Heery. After the Lady Colonels had struggled in their first season with a new coaching staff, the group that returned has Wilkes playing as well as it has in years.
Wilkes was never able to get into rhythm on offense in a loss to King's on Wednesday, but the Lady Colonels also held their rival without a field goal for a stretch of more than 14 minutes in the game.
Our defense is right where it needs to be, Heery said. A year ago, we had to switch up zones and so forth to even stay with them. (This time) they only scored 60-some points, and a majority were from the free-throw line.
Earlier this year, the Lady Colonels notched a win against a storied Scranton program and held a double-digit lead against DeSales before falling short at the end.
The next step for Wilkes is to be comfortable enough to treat marquee matchups like King's as they would any other game.
I don't blame nerves, but our girls were very excited and ended up being a little too jittery to come out (against King's), Heery said. So some of our best shooters were maybe a little bit tight. You miss the first couple and you start to press a little bit.
Already without forward Marissa Manning, King's will likely be without fellow starter Ashley Davies for the rest of the way because of an injury.
Both are significant losses for the Lady Monarchs, who still have their sights set on a return trip to the NCAA tournament.
Despite those setbacks – Manning was hurt on Dec. 28 and Davies last played on Jan. 9 – King's has yet to lose in 2013, carrying a six-game winning streak into today's game against Manhattanville.
The Lady Monarchs still have an experienced core of players to rely on, with many seniors playing significant roles for their fourth straight season.
Still, King's will need others to step up, particularly in the frontcourt. Freshman forward Jennifer Fabian has averaged over 23 minutes off the bench in the past three games and has 19 points, 22 rebounds, four blocks and four steals in that stretch.
In the win over Wilkes, fellow rookie Tara Zdancewicz (Wyoming Valley West) scored eight points in nine minutes.
Jennifer's been in double digits for points or rebounds and Tara has been more involved in the offense, King's coach Brian Donoghue said. Ultimately, they have to be able to play on defense for us to go deep.
Hey, at some point these seniors were freshmen who were learning, too. We just need to get reps for these guys.
(Women 1 p.m., Men 3 p.m.)
Manhattanville at King's
Misericordia at Delaware Valley
Wilkes at FDU-Florham
DeSales at Eastern
(Women 6 p.m., Men 8 p.m.)
King's at Misericordia
Wilkes at Eastern
DeSales at Manhattanville
FDU-Florham at Delaware Valley