A year after coming oh so close to a state championship, the Salmen High girls basketball team is ready to go all the way.
With some added depth on the 2017-2018 squad, the team may have the firepower to return the Spartans to the top of the girls basketball world in Class 4A.
“I like where we are headed into the season,” Salmen coach Panos Bountovinas said. “We have added four freshmen to a talented bunch that had a special season a year ago. I expect our depth to increase and allow our starters to catch their breath, in addition to enhancing our interior offense and defense.”
Finishing 27-12 a season ago, the Spartans went on a magical post season run that saw them defeat the top-seeded team in the 4A bracket, Loranger, on the road and have a miracle comeback in the second half against Northside in the state semifinals.
The run abruptly ended, however, in the 4A title game, as they fell to Ellender, 65-49.
“I know how last season ended is in (the players') minds because they have expressed it to me,” Bountovinas said. “They want to get back to the state tournament. My response to them is to do the things that last year got you there. That starts with coming out every day at practice and working hard.
“Is this team capable of returning to the state tournament? Absolutely. They are capable. They just need to go out on the court and prove it.”
One of the youngest teams in the state a season ago, the Spartans lose only one senior from last season and return all five starters.
Junior Ashanti Eden is the leading returning scorer for Salmen at 20.5 points. Junior Jaylen Huderson averaged 13.2 points per game and led the team with 8.7 rebounds per contest. Senior Arie Cooks was the only other double-digit scorer last season (11.4).
“We are a year older and a year wiser,” Eden said. “We feel like if we work harder than we did last year that we will give ourselves the opportunity to atone for the disappointing way the season ended last year. I have confidence in our new players helping us and it allows us to really pace ourselves throughout the game now. I know early on, it has made us better players.”
Huderson echoed much of her teammates' sentiments.
“We are hungry for success,” she said. “That success will come if we continue to communicate well out on the court. When we talk, the offense and defense run smoothly and we put ourselves in position to win basketball games. Mix that with some very talented young players and the trust they are continuing to earn, and I think we have the chance to be quite successful this year.”
One of the biggest problems for the Spartans last season was their lack of depth, relying mostly on a seven-person rotation. The additions of freshmen Skyler Christmas, Jardae Muse, Jenesys Fields and Kayla Glover are expected not only to ease the pressure on the starting five, but also to provide Bountovinas with some added height inside.
“This is the single biggest difference from last year’s squad,” he said. “Not only do the players coming in understand it, but the returning players get it as well. They are willing thus far to accept it and give up some of those minutes to help the overall success of this team. You are starting to see our starters say, ‘Hey, I’m willing to sit down to catch my breath,’ and confident that the player replacing them on the court is going to keep doing what we do. We don’t lose much on the floor now when we go to our bench.”
Salmen opens up the 2017-2018 regular season at home against Ursuline Academy on Nov. 14 at 6 p.m.