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WINDSOR — Youth may be wasted on the young, but Gabby Giddings appreciated every second of it.

Giddings, the leader of the freshman class of Windsor High wunderkinds last year, said that although the Jaguars started three, sometimes four, freshmen on the girls basketball squad that finished third in the tough North Bay League, there was almost an innocence about them.

If things went awry, they could always blame it on their youth.

This season? No more excuses.

“There is an expectation, where last year we had the word ‘freshman’ title so things could slide by,” the 6-foot-1 team captain said. “But now we’ve had the experience, and (coach Jeff Paul) knows that if we mess up we don’t have anything to fall back to. We kind of have to know what we are doing and get it done.”

And they have to get it done without the gifts of Jessica Barbosa, last year’s senior stud who poured in 14.5 points per game along with more than 12 rebounds. Barbosa is now playing Division I basketball at the University of Texas-El Paso.

“I definitely do look up to her. It’s hard not to have her here,” said sophomore Mattie Murphy, who at 6-foot-2 is the tallest Jaguar on the team.

And for Murphy and Giddings, Barbosa’s absence will be especially keen.

“Mattie and Gabby are really going to have to step up their rebounding,” Paul said.

Murphy pulled down three rebounds a game last year, while Giddings grabbed more than seven. Giddings also contributed eight points and Murphy added three.

But those points they got as freshmen? Many of them came because teams were doubling up on Barbosa down low.

“She had so much attention on her they would find themselves open,” Paul said.

And still Barbosa would lead teammates, show the younger players the way and yes, pick up after them.

“She kind of cleaned up everything for us when we made mistakes,” said sophomore guard Sabrina Simili.

So it’s a different year for these sophomores in a lot of ways. They’d like it to be a coming out party of sorts.

And while they still show youthful lapses in focus (there was some extra running at a practice last week when drills were not moving as they should), they are also showing signs of maturity.

“It’s definitely not as scary,” Simili said.

And with a year of competition under their belts, these Jaguars are talking about maturity, talking about changing roles, talking about goals.

These Jaguars are now in the heady world of expectations. Teams, and players, can either rise to those expectations or be crushed by the weight of them.

Paul knows this and isn’t afraid to talk to his team about numbers, about what they lost in Barbosa’s departure, about what they need from his returning group.

“They have some big shoes to fill,” Paul said.

“We go over all of our stats. We are right up front with what our successes were last year and the gaps that need to be filled,” he said

Giddings, for one, will have a lot more attention down low, and sophomore guards Simili and Hannah May will likely find a few more hands in their faces because teams will be less likely to drop off perimeter players until Giddings and her post partner Murphy can prove they deserve a double team.

Simili averaged three points and two rebounds a game last year, while May was responsible for 10 points per game and 2.4 rebounds.

And this early in the season, there are still a lot of unknowns. And Paul, for one, is OK with it.

“We are very excited about this team,” he said.

In addition to their super sophomores, they have three transfers, including former Analy sharpshooter, junior Valerie Viramontes, who make this squad hard to nail down and also quite deep.

The Jags started their preseason with a 48-41 win against Analy. They are scheduled to take on Pinole Valley in the Alameda Lady Hornets Invitational tonight.

Paul says they do not yet have a firm starting lineup but can go with essentially three starting groups depending on what is needed. The Jags are big (they have two players taller than 6 feet and three girls who stand 5-11) but can also call on a lineup that is fast.

As this group has evolved, Paul has asked them to push out of their comfort zone. Murphy is working on posting up stronger while the guards are moving at speed with their off hands.

Some of it is starting to take shape, some of it is still in the works.

In a game of one-on-one at practice last week, Murphy reeled off three straight baskets on Giddings, in all manner of ways: long balls, backing Giddings down and a put back. Murphy won the game to seven.

“I know I have to keep up my mental strength,” Murphy said.

It’s all part of growing up.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”