On the road back from Wichita, Kan., after being eliminated in the first round of the Heartland Conference Tournament, Felicia Jacobs turned and asked, “Will you be here next year?”

The question the now-senior guard posed suggested confidence in her final season, as she certainly expected to be back herself.

Now just days away from the season opener, the Heartland Conference agreed with Jacobs’ (San Antonio) foresight, pegging the Lady Rattlers as one of the top teams in the league in its preseason poll at No.2. As one of the Rattlers’ leading players, Jacobs’ sense of a special 2012-13 season was again backed up by St. Mary’s performance in its exhibition game against the high-profile University of Texas-El Paso, in which the Rattlers held the Division I team in contention throughout the game, losing by just nine.

Obviously, Jacobs knew herself and her fellow Rattlers would be on the brink of a big year this season, which tips off Saturday with the Lady Rattlers’ 5 p.m. game against Cameron in the St. Mary’s Classic at Bill Greehey Arena.

The Rattlers’ predicted success by Jacobs and the conference lies within its stacked roster that houses just one freshman, giving way to a team filled with experience. St. Mary’s main strength this season will be its ability to play the bench as well as have a desirable dilemma of the starting five.

Back for her second season, leading scorer and Heartland Conference Newcomer of the Year Jackie Woods (Jr., San Antonio) will likely continue to lead the Rattlers again this season as she comes now with a year of St. Mary’s experience. Woods, showcasing her familiar style of fast-paced play, banked 18 points that included three 3-pointers in St. Mary’s exhibition game.

Returning alongside Woods is the Heartland Conference Freshman of the Year and All-Heartland Conference Second Team selectee, Morgan Pullins (So., Franklin, Mich.). Pullins had a stellar freshman year, complemented by her conference awards after leading the Rattlers in rebounds, blocks and steals, and will likely remain the Rattlers’ starting forward.

In addition to Jacobs, Woods and Pullins, the Rattlers’ four new players will prove to be a major contribution to St. Mary’s success this season. The Rattlers will gain height in the 6-foot-1 Brushea Daniels (Burelson, Texas) and the 5-foot-11 Mariah Lee (Houston), who both come to St. Mary’s as juniors with two years of college play already under their belts. The 5-foot-9 Lia Lioa (Jr., Phoenix) adds another to the guard rotation who also comes to St. Mary’s with two years of collegiate experience. The Rattlers’ sole freshman, Dezirae Elias (Chandler, Ariz.) will prove she can fit with a skilled, upperclassmen level of play.

Along with Jacobs’ aggressive stance on the court, the Rattlers will see the returned and improved Bria Bell (Jr., Mesquite, Texas), who became a starter midway through last season, and Kathryn Galindo (Jr., San Antonio), the Rattlers’ tallest at 6-foot-2, as well as Liz Boyd (Sr., San Antonio), who took on the starting point-guard role last season.

With big predictions that began at the end of last season for an even bigger year, the Lady Rattlers will soon try to prove that the 2012-13 season will be a redemption year for St. Mary’s.

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