That opportunity exists because the Colonels had only seven players in uniform for eight games last year during a 5-20 season. A string of season-ending injuries shot holes through an already thin roster, and the players who remained had to endure losses in 15 of their last 17 games that dragged the team to the bottom of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference.
Ruff-Osborne, who begins her eighth season at Centre on Nov. 19, said she doesn't think the Colonels are far from turning things around, and she said she's excited about what this freshman class can do for the program both this season and in the years to come.
"I feel like this is one of the best classes we've had here, and that says a lot," she said. "Give us a year or two and we'll be right back on top.
"We've got some good talent; it's just going to be a lot of learning. It would be nice if we had a few upperclassmen to help."
Barlow bothered by knee injury
There aren't many places the freshmen can look to for leadership. Casey County native Amy Barlow is the team's only senior, and two of the three juniors won't be with the team until the current semester ends.
Barlow is back to play point guard after sitting out last season with a knee injury that has required three surgeries in the past 12 months, but she can't play full time. Ruff-Osborne said Barlow will eventually need one more operation, but for now she's giving the team what she can.
"She's not 100 percent and probably never will be," Ruff-Osborne said. "She'll give us a few minutes here and there."
Ruff-Osborne said Barlow played 15 minutes in a recent scrimmage, and she said that's probably about as much as she'll be able to do all season.
"Her knee some days is great, and some days she can't go at all," the Centre coach said.
Barlow averaged a team-high 12.5 points per game and led the SCAC in assists per game (4.3) and free-throw percentage (.841) in 2002-03.
Another of Centre's guards, sophomore Casey Geiman, is also coming back off knee surgery that cut her freshman season short, but Ruff-Osborne said Geiman's knee has been repaired.
"She's going to have to play a big role," Ruff-Osborne said.
Wessel could play three positions
But the biggest role on the team might be filled by junior Chelsea Wessel, last year's leader in points (9.0) and assists (2.4) per game, who could be used at three different positions.
"Chelsea had to play point guard a lot last year, and she's going to have to slide over there a little bit this year, too," Ruff-Osborne said. "We're looking for her to take more of a leadership role."
Two other players who will help in that area are junior forwards Shelly Johnson and Mary Klee. Both are studying abroad this semester and will rejoin the team in December, meaning the Colonels will have only 10 players until then.
Ruff-Osborne said two freshmen who could make an impact are forwards Jayme Davis, who at 6-1 could help Centre in the paint but can also play away from the basket, and Sarah Sheeran, who at 5-11 is capable of playing a guard or post position and has "great instincts."
The freshman class also includes Danville's Monica Vonderbrink, a 5-7 guard.
Ruff-Osborne said it's imperative that the Colonels stay healthy and that they develop a capable point guard to play when Barlow can't "so that doesn't look like our gaping hole. At the other spots we feel like we can compete with anybody.
"We're going to have to go through a learning curve, but by the end of January and February I think we can be a very good team."