It’s hard to build a team when you lose your top-end talent right away. That didn’t stop the Innisdale Invaders from putting together a solid squad this season.

The senior girls basketball team played with a variety of different looks during the fall season, after some of their top athletes left the unit.

“Our two best returning kids went to prep (school), so we’ve struggled a lot this year,” said Invaders coach Joe Denes. “We had five Grade 10s in the lineup and we’ve had to pull up a Grade 9 (at times) as well, too.”

It was a stark contrast from the Invader teams over the past number of seasons, which saw a trio of players receive NCAA Division-1 scholarships and countless others go on to play university or college basketball in Canada.

“We had a big run for five years and lost the nucleus of that group last year,” Denes said. “Our two best returning kids went to prep school, which is what we expected to happen and I understand that. If you want to pursue it at the highest level and play 12 months a year, then prep is probably your best option, if you can get a good spot.”

A pair of fantastic Grade 9s suited up for the Invaders in 2017, but only one, Heather MacTavish, remains a part of the team this year.

“I’m so happy I came to Innisdale,” she said. “I was supposed to go to (Barrie) Central for French, but then it closed down. It’s been a really good experience here and it’s been fun to learn from our coaches.”

It’s been about tutelage for Denes and fellow coach Scott Seeley, as they work a group of Grade 10, 11 and 12 students into basketball form.

“We’ve had a different focus with them,” Denes said. “We’re learning, and Scott and I have tried to do things the right way with them, but other teams that have kind of stayed together and didn’t have the exodus are beating us for sure. They’re stronger, older and deeper than us. But if this nucleus stays together for the next couple of years, we’ll be good.”

What the changeover has led to is a number of chances for playing time and it has meant that everyone on this year’s Innisdale squad has gotten the chance to get minutes during high-leverage situations.

“We’ve had games over the last number of years, in the big tournaments and OFSAA, where we’ll only go eight deep,” Denes said. “With this group, they work really hard, but we try to make sure everyone has an opportunity, because the stakes aren’t quite as high. When you’re rebuilding, you need a big base of kids that get an opportunity.”

“With those teams that went to OFSAA, if you were in the top eight, you were going to get a ton of minutes, and if you weren’t, then you weren’t,” he added. “With this group, everyone plays almost equal time and that’s what you have to do when you’re rebuilding. You want everyone to get a ton of minutes.”

Getting those chances may help players who either came to basketball recently or are late bloomers become true top-end players in the high-school game.

“That’s the idea,” Denes said. “You can’t get better unless you get the opportunity and this is a great chance to get opportunity. We can put them in pressure situations and give them the chance to compete, so they can get better at it for next year or maybe the year after.”

Photo: Innisdale’s Grace Brown sends a pass to teammate Shondra Durrant. The Invaders relied of a mix of Grade 10, 11 and 12 students this season. Stephen Sweet photo