MORAGA, Calif. -- As the Saint Mary's lacrosse team prepares to open its 2013 campaign, there won't be much question what is expected of a Gaels team looking for constant improvement.
That's because this year's team is long on experience. Head coach Lauren Uhr enters her seventh season at the helm having lost just three key returners from last year's squad.
With that experience comes a valuable building block for Uhr, as the foundation for what's to come won't need to be re-established this time around.
"We're able to implement easily some of the same concepts from last year, the ones that I want to carry into this year," Uhr said. "They should know that and then grasp them because they recognize them pretty quickly. The things that didn't work and need work on, you can relegate those to last year."
Personnel-wise, Uhr returns plenty of talent.
Last year's leading scorer, Amanda Cross, is back for her senior season after earning all-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation first team honors in 2012. The Danville, Calif. native scored 57 points last season, a mark good for fifth all-time at Saint Mary's.
Also back after a record-setting year is midfielder Rachel Minarovich. In 2012, Minarovich started all 15 games and set the school mark for draw controls in a single season with 75.
Uhr will also look for leadership from a quartet of accomplished players in midfielder Jaclyn Biggers, attacker Jillian Chong, defender Anna Maria Carabini and defender Rachel Sunday.
They'll look to fill that leadership void created by the graduation of three seniors -- Juliet Munroe, Cara Mulcahy and Katie Nelson -- that Uhr said will be missed.
Only two newcomers join the Gaels this season, with Castle Rock, Colo. native Kellie Barker the lone true freshman joining the squad. Uhr is high on her new midfielder, and the newest Gael will see plenty of playing time.
"She's going to make a huge impact," Uhr said. "She's got the height, she's got the athleticism. Now, we're just getting our game plan into her head and trying to get everybody on the same page."
Fellow newcomer Katherine Herzog returns home to the East Bay after starting her career at McDaniel College. The San Ramon Valley High School graduate will start the season at goalkeeper, and Uhr said Herzog will be counted on to make an impact right away.
As far as the schedule goes, Saint Mary's will start MPSF play right away with a Feb. 22 match at San Diego State. The most notable trip of the season comes in late March, when the Gaels head east to take on Saint Joseph's, Sacred Heart and Brown.
That trip, along with a home date against Stetson, will serve as a prelude to a tough closing stretch that features conference games against Stanford, Oregon, Fresno State and Denver.
"In the past, we have not done as well in conference as we've wanted to," Uhr said. "San Diego could've been a win for us last year. We beat UC Davis in the fall for the first time. Those are things we can definitely work toward as far as building our conference wins."
From a big picture perspective, the Gaels will look to continue strides made in recent seasons, and in turn make an impact in the MPSF.
"We've definitely made a lot of strides forward, it's just that the other teams in the conference also have," Uhr said. "We're getting better, and definitely getting more competitive, but I think the rest of the country is also getting better and becoming more competitive as the sport is growing."