This was supposed to be a down year for the Santa Margarita boys’ basketball team, a time to rebuild after graduating eight seniors from last season’s Southern Section championship team, including its top five scorers.

Apparently, that message never made it to Santa Margarita’s inbox.

The Eagles brushed off any talk of a down year by winning eight of their first nine games this season, all by double figures. They discounted those who looked at the roster, saw more freshmen and sophomores than juniors and seniors and figured inexperience would get in the way of success, and won their first tournament together by a landslide.

And don’t think those freshmen are just third-teamers. Santa Margarita’s leading scorer through the first month of the season was 6-foot-7 freshman center Jordan Guest, while another high school newcomer, J.T. Robinson, led the team in 3-pointers. Race Parks, a 6-8 freshman center, and Garrett Thompson, a 6-8 sophomore forward, are the two tallest players for the Eagles.

Scott Wesierski, one of the three seniors for the Eagles, looked around at all the newcomers this fall and thought about assigning nametags. Not just because there were so many faces to the varsity, but because most of them looked so young.

“We’re a lot younger team than we were last year,” Wesierski said. “We had a bunch of new guys come in this year, but it’s good chemistry between us.”

All these new faces with impressive size and statistics were enough to lure Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight to the Santa Margarita gymnasium last week, where he watched the Eagles post another double-digit win, this one against El Camino High of Oceanside.

Santa Margarita is scheduled to host the four-time defending state champion Monarchs in a Trinity League game Jan. 14.

“I think he’s a little worried,” Wesierski said, with not a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

McKnight will be up against a Santa Margarita team that’s been completely overhauled from last season’s version, which went on to beat Brea Olinda at the Honda Center last March to win the Division III-AA title. Many in the same group had lost in the championship game the year before.

“Last year we had more of a taller team,” said Wesierski, who stands 6-4. “So, we kind of have to play through our guards a little more, kind of relying on 3-point shots and a little bit less on the post.”

Six different players for Santa Margarita made 3-pointers through the first eight games, including Robinson with eight.

Guest is also on that list and makes it clear he doesn’t mind playing away from the basket. He was 6 feet tall by the sixth grade and it’s been estimated that he’ll grow to be 6-10, so Guest wants to be versatile enough to play a stretch-4 position or down low in the post. He knows his role with this team, however, especially down the stretch.

“Late in the game, I’m just going to post up and get rebounds,” he said.

The Eagles open Trinity League play with three straight home games, the middle one against Mater Dei, then host Trabuco Hills as part of the MLK Classic on Jan. 19.