The Shepherd women have a lot of new members looking for the chance to be cast in the role. The Rams have just four returning starters commingled with nine freshman for the start of another run at the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title.
"We are really optimistic about the season even though we are really young," Runner said. "We are being very cautious. Our approach to the season is to go game to game, learn the lessons from the wins and losses and then move on."
The Rams will be moving on to improve a 18-11 mark from last season. Shepherd opened the season on Monday with a loss at Indiana (Pa.).
Shepherd's group of veterans is small, starting with senior guard Carrie Kunkel, who assumes many of the scoring duties left behind by Murray.
"Carrie is a scorer but she does a lot of other things," Runner said. "She can put the ball on the floor and is a leader and plays good defense."
Kunkel has averaged 4.5 points in her three years at Shepherd, but 70 of the 81 games she has played were in a reserve role.
Anna Lashway will complement Kunkel on the other wing. At 5-foot-11, Lashway will cause defensive problems, especially when she shoots from the outside, but also has the ability to postup on the inside. Lashway, who transferred from American International before the 2002-03 season, returns on a medical hardship ruling from the NCAA after playing just four games last season.
Shepherd will depend on LaToya Fisher and Casey Landrum to hold down the inside positions as the center and power forward.
"LaToya has grown every year," Runner said. "She has become a force to be reckoned with and a defensive force on the inside. Landrum is a force on defense that can come outside and shoot the jumper."
The Rams add some experience with the return of one player who took last season off and a transfer with local ties.
Center Carolyn Malachi returns and will add maturity and strength to the Rams while former Middletown star Danielle Costello comes in after playing at Frederick Community College in 2002-03.
"Malachi played here two years ago and sat out last year," Runner said. "She was a rare high school graduate who knew what she wanted to do. She produces music and owns her own company, but she missed playing basketball. Danielle is a transfer who comes in here with three years of eligibility. She is 6-2 and left-handed and will help us in the post."
The first thrust of the freshmen contingent will come at the point guard slot where Rebecca Frece and Tiffany Acker will share the duties.
"Frece is a tremendous point guard who sees the floor as well as any Division I point guard. We are looking for her to be more of a scorer. Acker is a go-getter who goes hard and is deceiving with her long arms where she will get some steals."
Molly Land and Michelle Van Dyke are two freshmen who might pick up more of the scoring slack left by Murray.
Despite the new look, Runner is still holding the Rams to a standard of finishing in the top half of the WVIAC and heading to Charleston, W.Va. for the league tournament.
"We are going back to the drawing board and hoping we get better," Runner said. "The way we are looking at it we are coming in with talent. This is our first big recruiting class that I have had since I've been here and it's one of the best ones in the conference. We aren't rebuilding ... we are reloading."