Lyayshia Stevens and Ciarah Bennett grew up playing basketball together.

They used to play in boys' leagues in Camden, battling with kids bigger and stronger than they were.

They insist that those experiences taught them how to be tough on a basketball court.

"Every girl should start out playing against boys," said Stevens, a scrappy senior guard for the Woodrow Wilson girls' basketball team.

Stevens, Bennett, and fellow senior guard for the Tigers, Tamara Sellers, play with an edge. There's an element of abandon in their game.

Pressure does not faze this group.

Last year, Sellers sank a three-pointer at the fourth-quarter buzzer to give Woodrow Wilson the win in the Tournament of Champions quarterfinals. It was a microcosm of one of the most improbable postseason runs in recent South Jersey history.

This season, the group must overcome the graduation of Inquirer Player of the Year Chanelle Perry. Bennett, Sellers and Stevens - previously the core of an underrated supporting cast - must now take on the role of veteran leaders.

True to form, it is a role they're not backing down from.

"Sometimes when I think back to last year or watch video, I just think, 'Wow,' " Sellers said. "But it just takes confidence. You have to believe that you can do it, that's the key.

"We believe in ourselves, and that's what we're trying to teach these younger players."

Perry - a 5-foot-10 guard now starting for Clemson - was one the state's most athletic and well-rounded players. But the Tigers (1-1) point to her influence and leadership off the court as being hardest to replace. And that's what they're most focused on.

"Even as a coach, I'm realizing more and more everyday what she brought to this team off the court. She just did so much," said Tigers coach Bernie Hynson.

"But the good thing is that I do see other players trying to step into that role. I have the utmost confidence in these ladies. They've been through it."

The players don't view themselves as moving on without Perry. They're merely continuing what they built with her.

And even with Perry at Clemson, she's not completely gone.

"There's been a lot of FaceTiming," Stevens said with a laugh. "We're always asking her for advice. She's always going to be our sister."

Last year's success is motivation for this year's Tigers.

Unheralded at the start of last season and forced to overcome a rocky start, the team won the Group 3 state title and advanced to the Final Four of the Tournament of Champions.

They entered this season without a superstar but with a team stocked with talent.

Stevens, Bennett, and Sellers, the team's only three returning starters, are each proven scorers and tough defenders and, more than that, each played the hero at some point during the biggest moments of last year's run.

"We just have to continue trying to display that leadership," Bennett said. "We have to keep being aggressive, keep being confident and keep working hard.

"We know what it takes, we just have to do it."