DUPO — Marissa High sophomore Bree Portz wasn't ready to talk about the future last year when she walked off the court at Salem High.
The pain and emotion of a season-ending loss were too raw then.
But now, after an off-season of intense practice, Portz is ready for the future.
"We all made sure that we got everyone in the gym and working together as a team so that we can pick up from where we left off and move forward this season," Portz said.
Marissa opened the campaign with a 38-33 victory over Gibault in the opening round of the Dupo Cat Classic on Monday at Dupo.
Marissa (1-0) will play Father McGivney (1-0) at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the semifinal round. The Griffins defeated Valmeyer 57-9 earlier in the night.
Gibault (0-1) will play Valmeyer (0-1) at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the consolation bracket.
"It was good to get going with this tournament," Marissa coach Darin Degenhart said. "I feel like we'll play three pretty good teams here."
Despite missing 48 of 61 shots on Monday, Degenhart was pleased with his team's defensive intensity.
The Meteors forced 31 turnovers and grabbed 20 offensive rebounds while limiting Gibault to just four offensive rebounds. Marissa was led in scoring by junior Emily Smith's 13 points. Portz added 12 points and 10 steals.
Marissa won a school record 26 games last season and made a deep run in the postseason. That success gave the team purpose during the off-season as the Meteors entered a summer tournament against biggest schools.
"We played against mostly 3A and 4A teams," Degenhart said. "We didn't have a lot of success in terms of wins and losses, but you're trying to get better in that setting. I definitely thought that helped our development."
The size difference in the programs was not lost on the players.
"They had a deeper bench and more skill than some of the teams we play around here and that helped us prepare for this season," Portz said.
Portz and Smith headlined Marissa's run to a sectional championship last season.
"I like them going against the good competition this summer," Degenhart said. "I think that helped their development. The big thing that they do is on the defensive end. They're more active with their hands and that leads to more deflections."
Senior Hailey Krause, one of two seniors on the roster, saw last year as a huge eye-opening experience.
"It boosted my enthusiasm for the basketball season," Krause said. "Before it was, 'Well I hope we win this game.' Now, it's, 'we should win this game.'"
Marissa is now one of the teams to beat in the southern half of the state.
"I'm not sure they realize that," Degenhart said. "I definitely think there will be some attitude that we'll get everyone's best shot. We're not going to surprise anybody. We're trying to do what we do and take care of our business. If someone else is going to worry about us, so be it. We're going to be ready every night."