Questions swirled around the Westminster girls basketball team during the preseason.
After posting a 19-5 record and losing to eventual Class 4A state finalist Sherwood by only one point in the region semifinals last year, the Owls lost three of their top four scorers and four starters.
The lone returning starter for No. 19 Westminster was Jill Ibex. The junior -- the team's No. 2 scorer last year -- was someone coach Bernie Koontz said the Owls would need help from and she's given it, averaging more than 13 points, 11 rebounds and three assists early this season.
Ibex turned in a big sophomore year for Westminster last season, averaging 11 points at forward and leading in rebounds.
But with top scorer Beth Lister gone, Ibex knew the Owls would count on her while the new starters adjusted to one another early in the season.
"I wasn't sure [exactly] what I had to do, but I was afraid if I couldn't score more, it might hurt the team," said the 6-foot forward.
And Ibex certainly has not hurt the team so far. Saddled with a tough early schedule, Westminster split its first two games, losing to Sherwood, 58-40, and topping No. 9 Howard, 64-48.
Ibex sparked the team in both games. She scored 14 points against Sherwood, a game Westminster stayed in until the final few minutes. Ibex added 16 against Howard.
She scored 11 in a 48-30 loss to Centennial Friday night.
Koontz said Ibex did exactly what he hoped. He said Ibex is a true leader on and off the floor, helping as the young Owls grow.
"She's stepped it up," said Koontz. "She's working hard and being a good leader. Jill knows what to expect and what we need to get done."
Ibex is not a vocal leader on the floor. She leads by example, constantly hustling, giving her all. Koontz said her teammates feed off of how hard Ibex works.
"The way she plays, she picks everyone up," said Sherry Esposito, a senior forward. "It's good to have her there because she knows what's going on all the time and how to handle difficult situations."
What also helps Ibex is her versatility. She is not the type of forward who simply calls for the ball in the post on every possession and tries to hit a short jumper.
Ibex can do a variety of things on offense. Against Sherwood, Ibex posted up several times and scored half of her points that way while getting plenty of garbage points against Howard.
Koontz said Ibex sees the floor well, making good passes time and again. He added that Ibex often gives up the ball when it's not necessary.
She does more of the same on defense. Ibex plays strong post defense -- often guarding one of the opposing team's bigger and tougher players.
Ibex said she worked hard over the summer to improve her game. She went to summer camps and spent lots of time lifting weights.
She also played for the Maryland Waves 15-and-under team at the AAU national tournament in Indianapolis.
While on that squad, Ibex played a guard/forward position on the wing, one that pulled her away from the basket and forced her to work on outside moves and a three-point shot.
Ibex also worked on taking the ball to the basket. Knowing a lot of scoring responsibility would fall on her this season, Ibex wanted several weapons in her arsenal.
"It was hard, but I want to win," said Ibex. "I want the team to do well."
Meanwhile, Ibex has gotten plenty of help. In addition to the tough frontcourt play of Esposito (five points, three rebounds per game), Lauren Henry (11.5 ppg) and Courtney Wunderlich (8 ppg) also sparked the team's offense.
The new open playoff format also will help the Owls. Instead of worrying about their difficult early-season schedule, Koontz and the Owls are working on trying to grow as the season progresses.
And Ibex should be a big part of that growth.
"I know everyone thinks we're not going to be good because we're young and inexperienced," said Ibex. "But I don't think that's true. Everyone has played basketball together for a long time, and we play well together so I think we'll do all right."