There’s a youth movement underway with the University of Akron women’s basketball team.

It’s certainly not by choice for the defending Mid-American Conference champions. If coach Jodi Kest could have kept Rachel Tecca and Hanna Luburgh around for another season, or 10, she would have.

Reality dictated, however, that they leave. But they do so having helped Kest establish a winning culture for a program that really didn’t have one before.

Tecca and Luburgh accounted for more than 50 percent of the Zips’ scoring last season and better than a third of their rebounding. What was even more important, though, was the leadership they provided.

So, as much as Kest will be looking to replace the offense and the rebounds, she also will have to find other players on her roster upon which to lean.

One is easy. After a year off dealing with an illness, Sina King will return to the Zips, and Kest surely hopes she’ll bring her 15 points and 8.7 rebounds per game with her. But King can’t shoulder the entire load by herself, Kest said.

“It can’t be just about Sina King,” Kest said during the MAC’s preseason teleconference.

Instead, it will have to be about other players on the Zips roster who showed signs of progress last season. Kest said she will be looking to them to fill what could be a leadership void created by the team’s youth.

“Anita Brown has stepped up her game,” Kest said. “She got a lot of experience last year and got a lot of quality minutes behind Luburgh. She has so much confidence right now. I’m just really pleased at how hard she’s working every day.”

The junior guard out of Warren averaged 7.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, gaining experience and recognition, and was invaluable in helping the Zips win the MAC tournament and a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Kest also holds expectations for sophomore guard Hannah Plybon, who earned her stripes as a freshman. A former star at Orrville High School, Plybon started 32-of-33 games last season, averaged 7.1 points and was named to the all-MAC freshman team.

“Then Hannah Plybon, she got a lot of experience as well,” Kest said. “Those two young ladies have had a really good preseason so far.”

Kest said that the team, which was picked to finish third in the MAC’s East Division by the league’s coaches, still has much to learn in the days left before the season begins.

“We’re going to have to have a great combination of those returning that know what it takes to win here and the culture that we’ve established the last couple of years,” she said.

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.