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ST. LOUIS — A cursory glance at the University of Northern Iowa women’s basketball roster might make it appear the Panthers are more depleted than they actually are.

While the departure of leading scorer Madison Weekly was expected, spectators may have been worried to find that the name Ellie Herzberg, last season’s No. 2 scoring option, is also absent.

But concerned fans can take a sigh of relief. After getting married in the offseason, the guard who averaged 12.2 points per game a year ago, is back with a new moniker but the same lofty expectations for her junior season.

“Probably everybody I’ve talked to (has been thrown off),” she said.

What shouldn’t throw people off is seeing Howell listed among the top players in the Valley. After earning first-team recognition by the MVC a season ago, she was named to the league’s preseason first team on Tuesday.

And with the departure of Weekly, who averaged a team best 15.2 points and 4.1 assists during last season’s NCAA Tournament run, the stage is set for Howell to put up even bigger numbers this year, something she’ll no doubt have to do if UNI hopes to repeat the success of recent years.

With five freshmen on the roster, Coach Tanya Warren is going into the season with the youngest team she’s had in her 11-year tenure at UNI.

Luckily, she believes she has a good enough supporting cast to make the transition smoother. Warren expects big leaps from the likes of Megan Maahs (7.5 points, 6.7 rebounds per game last season) and Mikaela Morgan (7.2 points in 2016-17).

So far, Howell has seen enough to believe her teammates can help with the heavy lifting.

“There’s a lot more I can do. But we’ve had a lot of people step up throughout the summer and at the beginning of practice,” Howell said. “I think it’s going to balance it out. We have a lot of offensive threats and I think that will help make me better and take (away) some pressure that I put on myself because I can count on my teammates.”

Even with her top option from a season ago gone, Warren says it’s false to think Howell has more on her plate this season. And if Herzberg’s supporting cast can elevate its game, Warren believes this squad can eventually pick up where last year’s left off.

“Ellie has always been one of our top scorers, so the role for her really is no different,” Warren said. “We need those around her to continue to get better and flourish in their role.”

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