Amidst forfeits, sanctions and a coaching carousel, stability has not been a strong suit for the Tigers of late.
Enter Alison Lacey - the final of four leaders to carry the clipboard for the Marshalltown Community College women's basketball team last year and the one ready to reestablish the integrity of a program that spiraled through a turbulent 12 months of NJCAA violations, scholarship reductions and a postseason ban.
"Last season it was a bit of chaos. (The players) went through a lot," said Lacey, who was named the interim volunteer head coach in December, before claiming the official title in February.
Incumbent head coach Larry Roberts was placed on paid administrative leave in November and was let go in January after investigations revealed impermissible transportation and off-campus housing violations under his watch that fall. Previous Tigers' volunteer assistant, Jay Freese, took the helm as an interim coach for four games, before Lacey received the same title.
The former Iowa State standout went through her own share of disorder that winter after an expired visa forced her to return to her native Australia temporarily. During her absence, MCC assistant softball coach Sheila Finnell held the fort for eight games before Lacey's return.
Forced to forfeit six victories for using an ineligible player during their first semester schedule, MCC finished the campaign at 11-17 and was held out of postseason play. Four Tigers tread through the trials and return with a coach seeking to reward their loyalty.
"I just wanted to come back when I got my visa and be stability for (the players)," said Lacey. "I wanted the ones that were back, who I thought had something to give to MCC and who I would be proud to have on my team, to know that they were here for a reason."
That dedicated quartet returns with a renewed perspective on the unfortunate chain of events.
"It was hard, but it made us stronger," said center Latrice McMullen, who weathered the storm with fellow sophomores Shana Lee, Shakeria Slade and Shantal Tobler, the team's fourth-leading scorer (8.4 ppg) and third-best rebounder (4.1 rpg) from a year ago.
The close-knit bond they share has quickly spread to the rest of the squad, one of the advantages of having just nine players on the roster.
"We are closer this year. We play more as a team and the attitude is better," said McMullen.
Accountability is another upside that's developed from the small team that must replace five of its top six scorers from 2011-12 including double-double threats Arielle Lockett (12.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and Jasmine Johnson (11.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg).
"There's a core group and that's it. We all know that we're going to play and that we need to come every single day prepared," said Lauran Hansen, whose words resonate even more with the sophomore transfer currently rehabbing from knee surgery, cutting the Tigers' roster to eight for their season opener against the Grand View University JV today on the road.
"You can either take it as a positive - you're going to get your minutes, or you can look at the other side - you're going to get really tired if you're not in shape," said Lacey, whose high-energy practices have tested the Tigers' fitness early.
No timetable is set for Hansen's return, meaning an issue that dogged MCC last year - incomplete efforts - becomes inherently more dangerous as the bench shortens.
"I feel like that's where we've gotten hurt a little bit. We get tired sometimes in games. We're going to push through that," said Lacey, whose players are well aware of the lapses that lingered last year.
"We can't just play half a game and think we're going to win. In the second half we let our frustration and (our) being tired overcome us. We have to learn to put it beside us and just keep pushing," said McMullen.
Sophomore guard Mady Van Metre, who has been working double duty while also competing on the Tigers' volleyball team, is one of several players Lacey noted as taking on the identity she is seeking from her squad.
"I want us to be mentally and physically tough. That we can play through anything and that we're not rattled by anything," said Lacey.
"That means how we represent ourselves on the court and off the court."
The Tigers will need their teeth sharpened for another tough Iowa Community College Athletic Conference slate that includes a trio of preseason ranked foes in No. 5 Kirkwood, No. 9 DMACC and No. 14 Southeastern.
With last season's issues behind them, there are no excuses coming from this year's squad.
"We talked about it at the beginning of the season just said 'what's happened has happened and we're going to move forward from it," said Hansen.
"We don't have time to mess around and go through the drama. We have to get it right and we have to be together. I think everybody has the same mindset."
With continuity building and skill on board, the Tigers believe they have the elements to bring back a winning formula.
"We have a lot of talent. We just have to put it all together in one," said McMullen.
"We can go far, I know we can go far."