CONYERS - The philosophy for the Salem girls basketball team is simple: "We have more fun because we press and run."
Once again this season, the Lady Seminoles should be a handful for their opponents as they shoot for their fifth straight state playoff berth.
"The team chemistry is coming together well," Salem coach Bill Roberts said. "We have very good team speed and defensive intensity. I would say we are progressing pretty well to have only practiced a couple of weeks."
Last year, the Lady Seminoles won the Region 8-AAAA South championship and placed third in the region tournament, earning their fourth straight trip to the state.
Yet with all its success, Salem lost Courtney Hurt, the reigning 2007-08 All-Area Player of the Year who averaged 29 points per game and 12 rebounds. In addition, Hurt is Salem's all-time leading scorer with 1,990 points.
Hurt, along with point guard Rebecca Mitchell, who also was lost to graduation, accounted for 40.3 points per game last season.
But the Lady Seminoles have a handful of returning players with varsity experience, including four who started at different points of the season last year.
"That helps a lot," Roberts admitted. "We also have a senior transfer who has been a starter as well. I expect us to be very competitive; we go into every season (with) a goal of making it into the state tournament."
That senior transfer is none other than Precious Elkins, a multi-talented player who will add more depth - and experience - to an already sturdy team.
"Precious is a solid player in the paint and has been a welcomed addition to our team," Roberts said. "She is a senior leader who loves the game and always plays and practices with great intensity. I look for her to have a great season."
Handling the point this season are sophomore Amber Johnson and junior Shardai Harrison.
"Both players are quick and very aggressive, high intensity players," Roberts said. "(But) I feel our strength is our play in the paint, as well as our transition game. A weakness could be our youth at the point."
Ariel Wynter, a 6-foot-3 athletic center who has really come along after the summer AAU season, will man the low post.
Kentrell White should also be a major defensive presence, and has improved her offensive output, along with forward Jaleen Thomas.
"We have solid depth at all positions," Roberts said. "Summer Scott, Jasmine Gray, Jessica Vason, Kristina McCallum and Jazzmin Dupree should give us valuable minutes on the floor as well."
Regarding the rest of Region 8-AAAA, this season should once again prove to be very competitive.
"Our region is very solid," Roberts said. "I look for Madison County to be the front-runner, and a host of us trying to knock them off. Every team in our region should be taken seriously and given great respect. There will be no pushovers."
Jason Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
· Team: Salem Girls Basketball
· Coach: Bill Roberts (eighth season)
· Key returning players: Ariel Wynter, Kentrell White and Jaleen Thomas
· Last year: 20-9 overall, lost first round of the Class AAAA playoffs to Mays
· First game: Nov. 18 vs. Mount Zion-Jonesboro, 6 p.m.