When senior forward Chappel Sharrock attended GPS's first basketball practice this season, many of the familiar faces she'd been used to seeing — some she'd grown accustomed to as far back as fifth grade — weren't there.
"I have at least learned all the names," Sharrock said of her new teammates.
If any team in the Chattanooga area can use the term "rebuilding year" this season, it's the Bruisers. Sharrock and senior guard Brianna Farris, who will play at Long Island University next season, return to the main rotation, but several newcomers will be vying for playing time trying to help replace the 90-plus-percent of the scoring that graduated off back-to-back Division II-AA state-championship teams.
Hall of Fame games got the season kicked off last week. This week play begins for all TSSAA teams.
GPS coach Susan Crownover has the daunting task of trying to find successors for four athletes who signed college scholarships since the Bruisers' season ended. The most high-profile among them is Chadarryl Clay, who is now at Auburn.
Attempting to meet the high expectations of her predecessor is thinly built freshman Akia Harris. Crownover doesn't expect her to score with Clay's regularity but said she's seen her make some passes suggestive of a more seasoned player.
"She got moved up last year after her eighth-grade season was over," Sharrock said. "She practiced with Chadarryl and Brianna and definitely has a point-guard mentality."
As for Harris, her expectations of herself are simple.
"My goal is to work my hardest and play the best I can," she said.
Other starters who moved on are forwards Jeneh Perry to Loyola University in Baltimore, Md., and Simone Busby, who signed a soccer scholarship with Evansville University in Indiana. Sharrock is being counted on to pick up some of the scoring slack inside, but she's more concerned with the new-look Bruisers' work on the boards.
"We're definitely not going to be out-jumping anyone this year," she said.
Senior LeeAnn Jackson is expected to start in the post this season, at least in the beginning. Junior Arabi Spears will fill one of the guard spots.
GPS had plenty of depth the last two seasons with North Carolina track-and-field signee Tory Kemp being a starter last year and a key reserve the year before. Junior Kelby Crownover, the coach's daughter, is an adept shortstop in softball and libero in volleyball and should bring some energy off the bench this season.
Coach Crownover felt the need to change the offense this season to try to accommodate the skill sets of the new group. It will take some patience, and her seniors know that.
"Chappel and Bri both have been uplifting," Crownover said. "They've not been negative at all when bad things happen. They way they've treated their teammates has been pretty good.
"I always want to win, but when you really think about it, what you have to do is look at the positive performances and try to get better every game. I think this group will as they find their roles. To me when a coach shakes my hand at the end of a game and says, 'Your players really played hard and they were where they were supposed to be,' to me that's a success story."
GPS opened its season Saturday by hosting Signal Mountain. On Friday the Bruisers return to the Mountain View Inn tournament at Bradley Central -- a competition they won last season -- and they drew the revenge-minded host school in this year's opener. They'll face a few more payback-minded teams along the way.
"Hopefully we'll be able to get a win or two," Sharrock said. "I think we'll be better than people expect."
Their East/Middle Region again should be tough, but they at least have youthful enthusiasm.
"I think we can go far," Harris said. "For one, we play as a team. Everyone hustles and works hard every minute. I'm just ready to get started."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.