VASJ coach Tony Redding is eagerly anticipating the opening night of the 2017-2018 campaign at neighborhood rival Euclid on Nov. 24.

That excitement is not only because another girls basketball season is about to tip off, but because of what he saw out of the Vikings in the off-season.

VASJ comes into this year as an experienced and motivated team that finished 8-16 a year ago and lost to top-seeded Perry in a Division II sectional semifinal.

Redding said what he was most impressed with was the direction the Vikings decided to go after being eliminated from the postseason last winter.

“The thing I like most is how hard these girls have worked and how close they have become on and off the court and how they have bought into what we are trying to do,” Redding said. “Last year didn’t sit well with a lot of the girls and instead of putting their head down and pouting about it, they decided to work hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I am excited to see them out on the floor this year.”

VASJ is a senior-laden team with seven seniors on the roster. There are also four juniors, two sophomores and freshman Willo Singleton on the Vikings varsity this winter.

VASJ lost leading scorer Nasiah Joe to graduation, but Redding expects every member of the roster to contribute at points this season and in different aspects – led by a talented senior class.

“I think we have girls that have leadership, some showcase toughness, some are shooters, some get after it on defense. We have a little bit of everything this year,” Redding said.

“It all starts with defense. That is the one thing in basketball you can control is how hard you play on defense. For us, I think we are going to be able to guard people and we have a lot of quickness out there. If we figure out some things on offense, we have a chance to really round into form come tournament time.”

Seniors Malia Ali, Jaida Bates, Kynadi Burge, Taylor Molson, Jenine Saba, Serena Saba and Elizabeth Smith will be counted on for leadership on and off the court. Kenyalise Ball, Lia Campbell, Iyana Smith and Daizha Walters make up a promising junior class for VASJ. Michele Blackshear and Aly Mostrocola are sophomores playing on the varsity, along with freshman Singleton.

The Vikings were tested in three scrimmages against Madison, Lutheran East and Lake Catholic and will open with a brutal non-conference schedule that includes Euclid, Beachwood (at Quicken Loans Arena) and Laurel.

“It’s not an easy schedule right off the bat so we will know early what kind of team we have,” Redding said. “I think it will benefit us down the road, and hopefully right at tournament time.”