October 27 marked the beginning of basketball season for high school. We begin our string of weekly season previews for each team with Salem girls and boys basketball.
The Salem girls are coming off a historical season that saw them reach the elite eight of the state playoffs and they're looking to return to glory, but this time they want to win it all. The tone surrounding the Lady Seminoles seems to be championship or bust, and you can see it in their practices.
"It starts everyday in practice. We talk about that constantly, about you can't just look at today as just another day of practice. It's in preparation for our end goal," Rochone Dilligard, Lady Seminoles head coach, said about the team's goal of winning a state title. "We come in every day with the same intensity when we're playing a cross-town rival in a game and it looks that same way in practice. Our practices look like a game because we have that intensity and that's what we just gotta keep going all throughout because we do have an endgame in mind of a state title. Everybody else in the country has that same goal so you can't get caught up in that, you just gotta be diligent in doing what you do and being the best at what you do."
Salem, boasting a strong senior class, returns three starters from last year after losing only two seniors. LSU commit and Lady Seminole standout Ayanna Mitchell returns, along with two impact players in Rosie Kyles (4.4 rebounds and two steals per game last year) and Shay Tarver (11.9 ppg last year).
Dilligard says that with the experience on this team and having been in the system for four years she expects it to be a seamless transition into the season. Their leadership experience is evident in watching them practice. You see players telling other players where they need to be and you see them holding each other accountable.
"They've been in the program so long, they know the expectation level," Dilligard said. "They know what they're supposed to be doing and they are doing a very good job of communicating to the younger players and to each other. They're holding each other accountable, being where they're supposed to be and doing what they're supposed to do."
"We're working on mastering a lot of the things that we did last year, but due to our experience we're able to add a couple of new things this year. Because they do have a basketball IQ and they're able to pick up things quickly."
The Lady Seminoles were working on defense in practice. Things such as pressuring the ball and getting out on fast breaks.
"Our focus is always defense. We want people talking about, "How are we going to score against that team?" That's what we focus on whether it's full-court, half-court - whatever it is, we are going to stop you. That's our mission, that's what we think," Dilligard said.
"A lot of times you can't control if the ball is going in the basket or if you're getting your shots or anything like that. But you can control your effort and your level of intensity on defense and we really try to focus on that."
Although there are good athletes on this team, Dilligard says that there is more to them than that.
Dilligard said, "This is a great group of kids. I want people to also know that they're not just athletes they're also students. I have a lot of them that are taking dual-enrollment classes. We pride ourselves on just the actual character they have, the integrity they have and also the students that they've become."