As the 2009-10 girls basketball season begins, the word "dynasty" is at the tip of everyone's tongue, and the Spring Valley Vikings are keeping that in the back of their minds.
Nine months after winning the Class 4A championship with a 53-22 defeat of Orangeburg-Wilkinson, the Vikings return with their starting five intact and one of the state's winningest coaches. So it's only natural that the term arises when fans talk about the program.
"People always want to look ahead to the future, the next two or three years, and that's just motivation, just makes us want to play harder," shooting guard Asia Dozier said.
When Dozier joined the team as a freshman last season, the dynasty talk had begun. She rounded out a starting lineup of underclassmen that included 6-foot-1 center Xylina McDaniel, also a freshman.
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Dozier, McDaniel and sophomores Briana Robinson, Shaquita Walker and Savonia Bryan lived up to the talk as they rolled through a 26-1 season.
They cannot be surprised that the attention has increased.
While coach Anne Long does not focus on the possibilities that arise from keeping this talented group together for three more seasons, she knows the chatter is far from nonsense.
"Certainly the potential is there," she said. "Anytime you come off a championship and you know didn't lose any starters, you know you have a shot at another. People are going to expect that."
The Vikings, No. 1 in the coaches' preseason rankings, know they are favored to repeat. They believe they can live up to expectations. But they don't take it for granted.
In fact, they are preparing for a tougher road this season.
"It's a lot harder than it was last year, when people thought we could do it but really weren't sure what we would be like," said McDaniel, who averaged 13.3 points and nearly eight rebounds per game last season.
"Winning a championship made it more challenging for this year, since any team that does that is gonna have a target on their back," Dozier said. "Knowing that you're defending something, it just makes you want to play harder than before, to prove that you deserved it, that it wasn't a mistake last year that we won."
Long, who has five titles in eight state-final appearances, expects her team will endure a lot to prove that.
"We know its going to bring out the best in our competition. Hopefully it's also going to bring out the best in us."
Long said the Vikings are bigger, faster and stronger thanks to summer camps and AAU basketball. They have two of the state's best players in McDaniel and Dozier.
"We have talent, of course, but you have to make the best of that talent," Long said.
Spring Valley is a bigger team this season, adding depth at the power forward and center positions, including 6-1 Jocelyn Lawrence.
And, players said, team chemistry has improved.
"Our communication on the floor is real easy because we have all bonded by staying together," McDaniel said. "That relationship is going to help a lot because of how close we are off the court, that will help us do better on the court."
And there is nothing like going through a championship season to bring a team together.
"It did change things for me, because now instead of just loving basketball, I love my team and I love the people that come out to support us and believe in us, and that makes me want to work even harder," McDaniel said.
And maybe help establish a dynasty.