Pine River girls banking on four key returning players

LEROY — It’s been a few seasons since the Pine River Bucks did not have a Nelson on their girls basketball team.

But with the Justins, Hills, Lindquists, Goodmans and others, the Bucks figure on having a competitive girls basketball team again.

The Bucks will open the season with three straight home games including Dec. 1 with Reed City, Dec. 7 with Morley Stanwood and Dec. 15 with Beal City. They have a road game at Marion before heading into the holiday break.

This marks the third week of preseason practices.

“Good, I was happy,” veteran coach Shaun Ruppert said of his early weeks of practices. “We’ve got 10 on the varsity and 13 on the JV.”

Key returning starters from last year include Julie Justin and cousin Kierra Justin, plus Kaylee Goodman and Anna Lindquist. All are juniors except Goodman, who is a sophomore.

Julie Justin will be running the offense for the Bucks.

“She’s a good defender,” Ruppert said. “Kierra is a big girl, and I expect this year she’ll score a little more defensively. Anna is a another good defender who runs the floor well. KayLee is another good defender with good speed. She and Anna will get out and fill the lanes.”

All-stater Kassy Nelson, a four-year varsity starter, graduated from last season’s team and is now at Saginaw Valley State University.

“With Chey (Rizor) and Kassy, they were the only true seniors we lost,” Ruppert said. “A lot of the other girls had good experience coming back.”

Ruppert has two seniors including Dana Hill, a returning senior, and Taylor Warner, a senior, who did not play last season.

Ruppert anticipates a competitive nonleague schedule to start the season. The Highland will be formidable again.

“McBain will be good,” Ruppert said. “I think there will be other teams that will step up this year. Lake City will be tough, NMC will be better.”