Arundel girls basketball coach Lee Rogers heard the doubters at the beginning of this season.
His team had lost seven seniors, including four starters. There would now be no Alex McGuire, who had graduated after setting a school record with 2,086 career points. There also would be no Ana Baker or Janae Butler, both first-team All-Anne Arundel County performers.
Don't feel too sorry for the Wildcats, though. As assistant coach Juan Baker - Ana's father - said, "Arundel doesn't rebuild. They reload."
Bolstered by leadership from their three seniors - Danae Brownlee, Aanika Dobbins and Jazman Ramsey - Arundel (16-4) again is in prime form and on top in Anne Arundel County. Undefeated (14-0) in league competition, the No. 6 Wildcats are the highest-ranked county team in The Sun's poll.
The seniors have been key to Arundel's success, Rogers said.
"People counted us out," Rogers said. "But our seniors were determined not to let that happen. They are doing a good job of bringing the other players along in the system. Their leadership has been integral to teaching the younger kids the way. I'm very pleased and proud to see the way they are stepping up. They lead by example."
Dobbins said the seniors want to teach the younger players that being a Wildcat is more than just scoring baskets.
"We're teaching them how to carry themselves," she said. "It's important to carry yourself the right way on the court and off the court, as well."
With its current success, Arundel has continued a tradition of winning that has gone on for more than a decade.
In seven of the past 11 years, the Wildcats have advanced to the state semifinals. Arundel won state titles in 1996, 2000 and 2004; reached the state finals in 1995 and 1998; and made the state semifinals in 2001 and 2003. Last year, the Wildcats spent most of the season ranked No. 1 before falling in the regional final.
"It's a system that Lee Rogers and [assistant coach] Donna McGowan have really developed," Baker said. "Every time Arundel graduates a strong class, people say that's the end of the road. But the next class of players always steps up."
The seniors on this year's Arundel team are leaders of a balanced attack. In the past, Arundel teams have at times been led by a few stars. But up until last week, this year's team didn't have a single player averaging double digits in scoring.
"We're just doing a good job of being a team," Rogers said. "Our philosophy is that it's very hard for the other team to defend against five girls who can score. But I think you can still be a star in our system, because somebody needs to step up and take charge each game."
One of the players taking charge is Brownlee, a shooting guard who is second on the team in scoring at 10.6 points per game. Brownlee, 5 feet 7, also averages 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
"Danae Brownlee is just exploding this year," Baker said. "She's had double-digit scores in her last few games. She's stepping in the role that Alex had last year. Even though the points are more balanced this year, Danae is the one we're counting on to be consistent. She's a slasher; she can shoot the three. She's our do-it-all player this year."
Ramsey, along with freshman center Simone Egwu, has been an important rebounder for the team.
The 6-4 Ramsey, who plays forward and center, has averaged 8.5 rebounds per game, along with 6.5 points and 1.7 blocks, while Egwu leads the team in scoring (11.8), rebounding (12.0) and blocks (2.1).
"Jazman is the glue that holds things together," Baker said. "The girls under the boards, their role is very important. They're getting the team the second-chance shots."
Meanwhile, Dobbins, 5-7, has stood out for her leadership and defensive tenacity. Dobbins has averaged 6.9 points a game with 1.3 assists and two rebounds.
"Aanika definitely takes charge," Rogers said. "She's been playing injured with an ankle sprain. She has the will to be successful and play through the pain. For her, it's mind over matter."
Despite her injury, Dobbins has played outstanding defense, Rogers said.
"She's a defensive specialist," he said. "She and [junior] Brittany Watts take a lot of pride in playing good defense."
With the three seniors at the helm, Arundel embarked on its traditional, grueling early-season schedule, which included a loss against No. 2 St. Frances and losses to Parkdale and Northwestern of Prince George's County in the highly competitive IAABO Tournament.
"We try to play the best teams we can find early on," Rogers said. "We've always gotten better because of that."
The current Arundel team has begun to forge its own identity and distinguish itself from the talented squads that came before it.
"This Arundel team is certainly not last year's team," Baker said. "But they've hit their stride. Last year, we had three superstars. This year it's a community effort. We're not beating teams by 50 or 60 points like last year's team, but we get the 'W' and are undefeated in the county. Who else could lose almost all of their starters and still come back like that?"