The Desert Vista girls basketball team is still finding its way and determining roles as the season enters its third week.

That's because there has been an influx of new players, but also because the team has had to redefine itself after junior Simone Westbrook, last year's leading scorer, decided not play this season.

It didn't stop the Thunder from winning their first five games, brought the team closer together and has them prepared to defend their Nike Tournament of Champions' title.

"We had to move on. People think that just because we don't have Simone we are going to suck," sophomore Kylie Butler said. "That's not the fact. We have a good team and as long as we act as a family we are going to be fine."

Westbrook's ability is surely missed. She averaged 16.5 points, 3.9 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 steals as a sophomore.

The good thing is no one is dwelling on it and they are playing their game. It also helped to have freshman Emily Wolph to go along with Butler's athleticism.

Wolph, Butler and junior post player Jaymee Brugman have carried the Thunder in the early going with Cieara Spooner and Tinisha Toussaint also contributing.

It's led to a good start, but Desert Vista coach Rachel Proudfoot said there needs to be a stronger focus heading into Nike's TOC in Chandler.

"We need to take care of the ball better, finish stronger and have some role players step up," Proudfoot said. "Overall, they have to want to. Every time we are playing we are re-defining who we are."

And with the competition level at the TOC you'll find out in a hurry what your team's weakness is if you are not at your best.

Last year, the Thunder won the Blue Division beating Moraga (Calif.) Campolindo in the title game 65-55 to complete a four-game sweep of top California programs.

This year the Thunder will be the team everyone is shooting for when action gets under way on Friday. Proudfoot would love to win it again, but the goal of this event is all about preparation.

"It gives us the competition we don't get until (East Valley) Region games," she said. "We run into some great teams in region and this tournament always allows us to get the experience and challenges we need heading into region."

Butler said last year's performance will be hard to match, but wouldn't put it past her teammates to do it again.

"We played above our potential," she said. "We just went hard and kept winning games. We had no idea we could win it, but we did. We'll take the same approach this time."

The 5-foot-7 Butler led the team in scoring through three games at 15.0 points on 48 percent shooting from the field. She also averaged 3.0 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 3.3 steals a game in beating Phoenix Alhambra, Gilbert and Tempe Marcos de Niza.

Wolph, who Butler called "our little Steve Nash," has made an immediate impact.

The 5-4 guard is averaging 11.7 points, 4.3 assists, 3.3 steals and 3.0 rebounds and along with Butler gives the Thunder two athletic threats who can get into the lane.

The inside presence is provided by the 6-foot-1 Brugman, who is averaging 12.7 points, 13.7 rebounds and 3.0 steals a game.

"We have a good thing going with the three of us," Brugman said. "We need a few more players to step up and help out. We are doing OK now, but we will really become a good team when we start getting contributions from other players."

Spooner, a senior, is averaging 7.0 points and 5.0 rebounds for another solid option while the rest of the team is kind of falling into place.

"We need to work on our composure and taking care of the ball," Proudfoot added. "The players will get their roles figured out and those other things will come together."

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