CHEBOYGAN — Over the last few years, Cheboygan varsity girls basketball coach Barry Salter hasn't really had to adjust his style of play.
That'll all be different this winter for Salter, who is heading into his sixth season in charge of the program.
But despite having to replace several key players, Salter is excited about the transition to a more faster-paced style of play.
"Everything's a little bit new," said Salter. "We're putting in some news defenses, we're putting in some new offenses, so we were working on that. Right now they're thinking a lot when they're playing, which means everything's a little slower than what we want to get to. Hopefully they'll get to the point where they're playing fast and not having to think about what they're supposed to be doing.
"It's a learning process, just like every year is."
Even with an experienced roster back, Salter knows it'll take some time for his players to adjust to the new style.
"Right now it's about attitude and buying in," Salter said. "It's pushing through the times that's difficult, that they're hitting that learning curve, and it's difficult for them, and they're still pushing. Right now we've kind of taken the attitude of hustle and communication is going to cover for a lot of our sins, and they've kind of bought into that right now. If they keep hustling, we'll just keep cutting down our mistakes and we'll just keep going up the ladder as far as improvement goes."
As for the experience returning, the Lady Chiefs feature several seniors, including point guard Olivia Chamberlain, who will start for a third consecutive season.
Chamberlain is joined by fellow seniors in guard CJ Salter, arguably the team's top shooter, as well as senior forward Jordan Young, another solid shooter.
"This is now (Chamberlain's) third year, and she had varsity experience as a freshman as well," Salter said. "The same goes for CJ (Salter), she's coming back. They put in a pretty good summer by themselves. CJ's had three years and she had a good couple games on the varsity as a freshman. Jordan Young, this will be her third year on the varsity."
Also returning is junior guard Kenzie Burt, who saw plenty of time on the varsity squad as a sophomore, as well as senior center/forward Kaitlyn Penfield, another player capable of scoring inside baskets.
The plethora of senior Lady Chiefs also includes Marah Roberts, Shayla LaVigne, Mabel Styburski, Maggie Chasse and Jackie Seaman, while Rebecca Blaskowski and Cassidy Jewell are both juniors.
"We're going to be pretty darn deep this year," Salter said. "We've got a lot of speed on the court this year. It's a different team than we had last year. This is a great group of kids. They're fun to work with, they work hard. I've really enjoyed these early practices we've had, and I know this season is going to run smooth."
After being more of an inside, post-up squad in recent seasons, the Lady Chiefs will likely rely more on their guard play during this campaign.
"We've got a lot of good guard play, we're faster at the guards this year, so we're able to do more things," Salter said. "I'm adjusting to what we can do offensively and defensively with a faster backcourt. I'm excited, I really am."
Salter knows it will be difficult to replace former standout center Isabelle Buhr, a double-double machine, as well as McKenna Benson, who provided the Lady Chiefs with efficient inside play.
"Rebounding is an issue I'm concerned about, obviously," Salter said. "We started addressing it (during the opening days of practice). We talk about playing with more speed in transition, just because we don't have Belle where we're going to slow it down and grind out every position. We're going to try to create more offense with our defense this year. We feel that CJ (Salter) is shooting the ball better this year, Kaitlyn Penfield is shooting the ball better this year, Kenzie's (Burt) a better scorer. Olivia (Chamberlain) shoots the ball better this year, so we're going to start looking at how we replace those points, but I think we're going to be able to.
"We're going to be up and down the court a little bit more."
The tough competition will be there all winter for the Lady Chiefs, who hope to contend in an always-loaded Straits Area Conference featuring powerhouses St. Ignace and Sault Ste. Marie.
"We've got some really tough competition. In my opinion, if we're successful this year, it's if we play as hard as we can and improve every single week," Salter said. "Can we compete with almost everybody? I think we can. Do we have some very stiff competition? Obviously. You've got the Sault. They're returning a kid (Claire Erickson) that you're looking at Division 1 offers. Petoskey has the transfer in last year that we didn't see. She's getting offers from Grand Valley State and Ferris (State). You just had the (Ally) Schultz girl from St. Ignace sign with Ferris, so we've got Division 2, Division 1 players we're playing against this year. It's going to be tough."
Cheboygan opens its season with a non-conference home matchup against Boyne City on Tuesday at 7:15 p.m.
This article originally appeared on Cheboygan Daily Tribune: Shooting, speed will be strengths for Cheboygan girls hoops