LEROY — Pine River’s volleyball season opened on Saturday at the Traverse City Invitational with the Bucks looking to continue their improvement from the 2016 season.

“Our (2016) season focused a lot on daily improvement as well as building quality young ladies,” Pine River coach Jana Dennis said. “I think that our record did not reflect the growth that the team made. Our growth was slow but I think because of all the work we did last year, it will help get us farther this coming year.”

The Bucks will be looking to fill the shoes of key graduates.

“We had six graduate and each one of them brought an important thing to our program,” Dennis said. “We will definitely be looking for someone to replace the leadership shown by Julie Justin.”

Dennis is looking at two seniors, in particular, to carry the load.

“KayLee Goodman will be entering her senior year and the expectations are pretty high for her to be a leader and role model on this team,” Dennis said. “She has made some good connections to a few new girls to the team and I think the chemistry between them will be very helpful. Mackenzie Denton will also be a senior and I look forward to her stepping into a more predominant passing role.

“Also, 10th grader Sophie Johnson and ninth grader Emma Whitley will be sharing the setting duties this year so I look forward to seeing what they can do. They have shown some great promise during summer league.”

The Bucks’ home invitational will be on Sept. 9.

“We will be young and small in numbers but I think that they will grow a ton within the first few weeks,” Dennis said. “They seem to all get along with each other so that’s a great start but they also all seem to have the desire to be better every day. I think that they will be able to achieve great things simply because they strive to do so.

“I think a strength of our team is our serving. We are also a pretty solid defensive team. Our willingness to push each other to be their best is definitely a strength. I think our communication will be something that we will need to work on as well as our ability to read each other and know what we need. I think our cohesiveness is something that will need to be worked on but I don’t foresee that being a hindrance.”

The Bucks will compete in the Highland Conference.

“I think the Highland Conference is always tough,” Dennis said. “I really don’t know where I see us fitting in. I truly think that we could be considered underdogs in the conference. When people hear about us having only three returners they automatically think we will have a down year.

“I personally think that we will be pretty good. The girls all seem to have the desire to be better than they were the day before and are very open for constructive criticism and willing to help others. We really compliment each other quite well.”