Girls' basketball: Starks unwilling to allow Syracuse dropoff

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Syracuse • Courtney Starks was quick with her answer, beginning it before the question even was finished.

The Syracuse forward recognizes this season is the start of a new era for the Titans. She's eager to proclaim her conviction that it won't be a less successful one.

Led by two of the best players in the state, Brittney Martin and Makenlee Williams, Syracuse lost just one game over the last three years. But now that Martin and Williams have graduated and begun Division I collegiate careers at Oklahoma State and Utah State, respectively, the Titans will rely on a new core to continue their winning tradition.

"Our goals have never changed," Starks said. "No matter who's on the team or the talent or anything, we always have the same program going in every year. We can do it again this year. I know we can. We can take region and put up a really good fight in state again."

Starks certainly will play a large role in whether the Titans are able to cash in on her confidence. The senior was the leading rebounder on last year's championship team and often scored in double figures as one of the main offensive options after Martin and Williams.

Syracuse coach Rob Reisbeck said Starks will have to continue to be a force on the boards as well as expand her game offensively to help replace the production of Martin and Williams.

"She'll be one we're looking at to be that next big scorer for us," Reisbeck said, adding the Titans have a number of players who can lead the team in scoring in any game, such as junior guard Jayda Bovero.

To ready herself for her larger role on the team, Starks worked to become a more complete player. Whereas in the past Starks admittedly was a defense and post-oriented player, she focused on improving her perimeter shooting and ball-handling during the offseason. Reisbeck has been impressed with the improvements Starks has made and likened her current skill set to that of Martin and Williams.

"I really wanted to make myself an all-around player," said Starks, who has been in contact with a number of Division II programs. "I was just trying to become a player who can do everything."

But being relied upon for more production on the court isn't the only way Starks' role is changing this season. She also will be looked at to provide leadership, which is something the Titans didn't lack while Martin and Williams were around.

"It's very gratifying for me because I've been with the program for a long time," Starks said. "It's been Brittney and Mak, Brittney and Mak everything. They were great players, and Brittney taught me almost everything I know. But it's good to know now there are other people in this program that can take us back to places we've achieved."