LEROY — Pine River’s girls basketball team graduated several outstanding basketball players from a district championship team last season but veteran coach Shawn Ruppert will be looking to field a squad that will make plenty of noise on the court.

Junior Kassy Nelson is among the returning players along with seniors Paige Esiline, Michelle Kelsey, Erin Koetji and Jenna Peterson and junior Chy Rizor.

Julie Justin, a freshman, and the sister of Jamie Justin, are among the standouts who graduated from last year’s team, is also expected to contribute, along with junior Paige Vanhulst.

Nelson will be a key player for the Bucks along with Kelsey, who returns after not playing last season, after seeing extensive action 2011-12. Esiline and Koetji also have some experience.

“We’re young,” Ruppert said. “I think we’ve been getting better. We were at a scrimmage last Thursday at Clare with Mount Pleasant and Clare. I was pretty happy with how we played down there. We don’t have as many scorers as we did last year. Our defense is going to have to be good and we’ll have to rebound well.”

Freshmen and sophomores in his lineup will likely see playing time.

“It’s going to take us time to get used to playing together with the varsity game,” Ruppert said. “I think we have a chance to be a decent team.”

The Bucks open with home games next Tuesday against Reed City and Dec. 6 against Morley Stanwood in non-league action. The Highland season opens Dec. 10 at Manton. The Bucks are home Dec. 13 with McBain.

“The first four games will be telling,” Rupert said. “We’ll improve a lot. We might start out slow but I think they’ll end up being a good team.”

Ruppert expects Beal City and McBain to be among the league powers.