"Potential" is a dangerous word to use when referring to a sports team.
But that's exactly what is in abundant supply for the Genesee Community College women's basketball team.
The Cougars get their first chance to display that potential when they host the GCC Tip-Off Tournament today and Sunday.
In the first round, the Community College of Rhode Island plays Mott Community College at 1 today and GCC plays Fulton-Montgomery Community College at 5 p.m. The consolation game is at 11 a.m. Sunday, with the championship game set for 3 p.m.
The Cougars went a sparkling 26-3 last season, with all three losses coming to rival Monroe Community College, which went on to win the NJCAA Division II title. GCC was ranked eighth in the final national poll.
The Cougars suffered big graduation losses in forward Fifi Camara, second-team all-region forward Petra Kulhankova, all-region honorable mention guard Christine Roth and guards Kyecia Freeman and LaTarra Odom. Camara is now at Marist, Kulhankova is at St. Rose, Roth is at Saint Joseph's and Freeman is at Ursuline.
But despite those subtractions, things could be even better for the Cougars this season if everything comes together.
"This group has the potential to be the best team we've had since I've been here," fourth-year coach Scott Hemer said. "Our guards are by far the best we've ever had. Our forwards aren't tall, but they're more athletic and quicker overall.
"Now whether this group can learn to put the individual (things) aside and play as a team remains to be seen. If it can, there's no telling where they'll go. If they can't, we'll find out early on."
GCC returns a pair of all-region performers in guard Antionetta Young (first team) and forward Danielle McCray (second team). Young led the Cougars in scoring last season at 13.4 points per game.
"As key returning players, a lot of responsibility falls on them to maintain a tradition that other kids have worked hard to start," Hemer said.
The guard contingent also includes freshmen Lizzie Roth (Christine's sister), Stephanie Darden, Kellie Tingley and Whitney Ross. Roth also can play forward.
"We've gone and spread the floor a little bit more offensively," Hemer said. "We think we've got some quickness that we can take advantage of at the guard spot. It's a different direction for us offensively."
Freshman Latoya Anderson and sophomore Shameeka Savage are expected to contribute at the forward spot. Anderson, a Greece Arcadia product, was the Greater Rochester co-player of the year last season.
"We're a young group," Hemer said. "A lot of freshmen are going to have to walk in and play key minutes and contribute immediately."
The Cougars' schedule also includes trips to the Cincinnati State Classic and the Seminole Community College Classic. All the other teams in both tournaments are Division I schools. Wayne, Schoolcraft, Dean and CCRI are other tough opponents for GCC over the first six weeks of the season.
"We've gone out of our way to increase the level of competition," Hemer said. "It's going to make our kids better down the stretch and it will make us better as a team night in and night out because there will be no nights off."
Home-and-home matchups with Monroe highlight the conference slate for the Cougars, who were ranked 13th in the preseason poll.
"These kids haven't earned that ranking and that national respect yet," Hemer said. "Until they put on that uniform and step up to the plate, that's not their national ranking. It'll be a challenge for them to see if they can put the young immaturities aside and step up on the floor."