Last season was a high point for the Salem girls varsity basketball program, but coach Rochone Dilligard wants more in 2013-2014.
The Lady Seminoles finished last season with a 19-11 record, winning the Region 5-AAAAA championship over Clarke Central. But, with a core group of players returning, Dilligard is seeking a deeper playoff run this year.
Salem reached the second round of the state tournament a season ago, but this year the Lady Seminoles have a bigger goal in mind — a state title.
“I don’t believe that our record last season was indicative of our level of play,” Dilligard said. “We started the season out with a lot of injuries, and we came out really strong at the end of the year, winning the region tournament. We had a really good ending to last season that I think has helped us build to this year.”
In her third season with the Lady Seminoles, Dilligard will bring back a solid group of players, including junior guards Ayanna Mitchell and Shay Tarver. The Lady Seminoles offense, usually a high-powered, one-on-one system, will feature some tweaks this season.
“This year, our offense is changing because of our personnel and our team’s skill set,” Dilligard said. “A lot of our kids are very good at breaking their defenders down one-on-one and they have the ability to score. Usually, we will go four out and just be ‘basketball players,’ but this year we have blended a lot of two-man game into our offense.
“We have two great pairings of guards and low-post players that work really well off on-ball screens,” she said. “On-ball screens are one of the most difficult things to guard at the high school level, so we’ve implemented that into our offense this year. We’re still going to go up-tempo and we’re still going to run, but we want our skill set to dictate what we’re doing this year.”
Defensively, the Lady Seminoles will still continue their “in-your face” style of play, Dilligard said.
“We primarily run a man-to-man defense because we want to lock you down one-on-one,” she said. “However, we do have a couple of other defenses that we run that are pretty unique that create some problems because of our size. We have a lot of agile post players who can get out and cover guards and cause problems for them. We can create a lot of different match-ups.”
Dilligard said that Salem’s biggest weapon is its intensity.
“Intensity is our biggest weapon,” Dilligard said. “We play really, really hard and they like to get after it, both on offense and on defense. I don’t have to gear them up. I’d rather have to pull a team back than try to get one up, and they get to that level on their own.”
In the region this season, the Lady Seminoles will face threats from Clarke Central, Cedar Shoals, Gainesville and Flowery Branch.
“Clarke Central had a really young team last year, but they are always a very athletic team,” Dilligard said. “They are very similar to us and very aggressive. I’m sure that Cedar Shoals will put together another great team as well. Gainesville has a lot of players returning, and Flowery Branch, although they lose a lot, is always ready to play. It’s going to be a battle in the region, but we want to put ourselves into a good situation and take care of what we have to take care of. If we take care of our business, we’ll be in good shape.”
For the Lady Seminoles, anything short of a long state title run will be a disappointment.
“Our goal this year is to advance far into the state tournament,” Dilligard said. “We have improved every year, and this year we have a lot of veteran players. Our expectations are growing and we want to go far in the state tournament. On the court, they have been intense and they know what it takes to win a championship.
"We do talk about state championships because you have to think about it and visualize it to understand what it takes to get there," she said. "A state championship is definitely in our conversations this year.”
Salem begins its season today at 5 p.m., hosting Meadowcreek.