LEROY -- Coach Shawn Ruppert has a Pine River girls basketball team that could make some serious noise in the Highland Conference this season.

The Bucks are in their third week of practice and are looking to get ready for a season that starts next Tuesday in nonleague action at Reed City.

Ruppert returns seven players including four starters from last season’s team that again was competitive in the Highland against powerhouses like McBain and Beal City.

Pine River also plays on the road Nov. 29 against defending Class C state champion Morley Stanwood. The Bucks have a key home game with McBain on Dec. 11.

“I’m confident we should have a strong team,” Ruppert said. “We need to be tough on the boards. There’s a lot of Xs and Os.”

Looking at the Highland, Ruppert agreed that McBain and Beal City are the teams the Bucks will have to get by.

The lone senior the Bucks graduated is Chelsea Nelson. Returning players include Jamie Justin, who recently signed a letter of intent to play college basketball at Davenport University. Other key returnees are Erica Buchner, Cayman Gatt, Jandney Mattson, Kassy Nelson, Devyn Powell and Haley Raymond.

“I was pretty happy with last season,”Justin said. “We did pretty good. We could have done better. We will be strong.”

Justin agreed with Ruppert that a key for the Bucks will be boxing out and being able to hold their own on the boards.

But Justin, like the rest of her teammates, can’t wait to tip off the season.

“I think we have the potential to be a real good team,” Justin said. “We’ll be quick and able to push the ball up the floor.

“Our team goal is to win conference and go far (in the postseason).”