Shawnee’s attempt at defending its Class 5A crown begins today with a season-opening tipoff at 6:30 p.m. at Bishop McGuinness. The Lady Wolves, who spent all of last season ranked first, are ranked fourth in the 2012-13 preseason.

It was just eight short months ago that Shawnee’s Lady Wolves carved a big notch in the program’s history, and a team that has since been racked by graduation is no less intent on whittling out another mark. In the past two seasons, Shawnee’s girls have set newer and higher standards, beginning with their first-ever season (2010-11) of 20 or more wins and first-ever trip to the state tournament. That run for gold, which was cut short with an overtime loss in the semifinals, whetted an appetite not easily satisfied, so the Lady Wolves went on to forge two more firsts in the 2011-12 campaign — their first-ever undefeated season, and their first-ever state title. Shawnee’s attempt at defending that Class 5A crown begins today with a season-opening tipoff at 6:30 p.m. at Bishop McGuinness. The Lady Wolves, who spent all of last season ranked first, are ranked fourth in the 2012-13 preseason. The Fighting Irish, who knocked the Lady Wolves out of the race in the 2011 semis before going on to take that year’s title, are ranked fifth in 5A. Shawnee’s roster was hit hard by graduation, and a large number of key players from last year have moved on. Kelsee Grovey and Taylor Cooper are now playing at the collegiate level — Grovey for the University of Tulsa, and Cooper at Oral Roberts University. Others gone via graduation include Diamond Young and J’Mee Cotton, as well as Caitlyn Ramirez. Ramirez was a major component as a junior, but was forced to sit out her entire senior season because of a knee injury. The only returning starter for head coach Wendi Wells, as well as the only senior on this year’s roster, is Micaela Yu. Affectionately called Mei (pronounced “May”) by her teammates, Yu averaged eight points per game for the 29-0 Lady Wolves last year. Several of the underclassmen last year got significant playing time, including now junior McKenzie Cooper. “We had several kids that had a lot of playing time last year,” Wells said, adding that she has a solid core to work with this season. “The only problem with it is that they’re young and they’re filling a different role. They’re going to have to get experience at those new roles.” Yu will most likely be a post player, Wells said, and McKenzie Cooper is “very versatile” and can go wherever she is needed. “That helps us a lot,” Wells said. “We’ve got a lot of athleticism. It’s just learning what to do with that athleticism and when to use it.” Also gone from the Shawnee roster is Mya Tramble, a junior last year. She transferred to Wewoka for her senior year, Wells said. Wells, last year’s Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association (OSSAA) Girls’ Coach of the Year, said the team experienced some minor preseason bumps and bruises, but should be healthy as the season gets underway. The predominantly young crew has a “different dynamic” from last year’s crew, Wells said, and they are in a learning process. They are going through what Wells calls a lot of “on-the-job training.” “They want to learn, and they understand what kind of program they’re coming into, and a lot of young kids bring a lot of energy,” she said. “With young kids, you have to teach them a different way. Basically, every day is a teaching experience, and they seem to be picking it up.” Shawnee’s 2012-13 schedule includes a road trip to No. 7 Piedmont (Dec. 4) and the Bixby Tournament (Dec. 6-8) before the Lady Wolves hold their home opener Dec. 11 opposite second-ranked Deer Creek. Piedmont and Deer Creek, fellow members of Shawnee’s Suburban Conference, are joined by third-ranked Carl Albert — the Lady Wolves’ home opponent Feb. 8. “Our conference is just loaded,” Wells said. Shawnee will wrap up its pre-Christmas schedule with home games Dec. 18 against Ada and Dec. 21 against Guthrie. The Lady Wolves will start the 2013 portion of their slate at El Reno on Jan. 8.