INDEPENDENCE — The 2020-21 girls basketball season, rearranged as it was because of COVID-19, didn’t give teams and players a full shot at meshing to their highest potential.

“Players probably liked it better because there were a lot of games and not so many practices,” Central coach Marc Burleson said, perhaps only a bit in a jest.

The Panthers of that spring 2021 season had five returning starters and moved up five JV players, “and we didn’t have the opportunity to jell or get things going,” Burleson said. “The kids had to play in masks, so it was harder to go all out.”

The experience those players got, though, “I think will help us be really strong this year,” Burleson said.

The Panthers lost only two seniors from that team, and returning junior Sadie Wendring has the inside track on being “our leader,” Burleson said. She led the Panthers in scoring last season and poured in 30 of the team’s 40 points in the finale versus South Salem.

Central should have “a pretty strong supporting cast,” Burleson said.

Junior Kendall Seidel is in the post along with senior Peyton Foreman, and “we have a couple of good freshmen, potentially.”

The Panthers are about average height-wise; everyone is 5-11 and under, so it will be a more guard-oriented attack.

“We’ll run more of a motion offense,” Burleson said. “We have some good outside shooters and will try to balance that with our inside game.”

Central’s opener is 7 p.m. Wednesday at North Eugene.

The home season starts Friday with a 5:30 p.m. game that is part of a Panthers double-header with Cascade.

The Mid-Willamette Conference season kicks off Dec. 21, when Dallas comes to Central for a 7:30 p.m. tilt.

Burleson, in his third season at the helm of the Panthers, has coached a lot of other places, including Sprague, Crosshill Christian, North Salem, South Salem, McNary and North Marion.

A construction project manager who lives in Salem, he did basketball, track and field and baseball in high school in the Sacramento and Redding areas, then competed in NCAA Division II basketball and ran track (the 400 meters and relays) at Montana State. He graduated from the Bozeman Big Sky school with a degree in architecture.

His choice of basketball system “all depends on the players,” he said. “We adjust our style based on what they can do. If I have a bunch of guards, I’m not going to run a heavy post offense. Or, if I have a bunch of posts, I’m not going to run a lot of dribble-drives.”

Having said that, “we do want to run and gun a little, and we’re very defensive-minded. We want a lot of full-court pressure and man-to-man defense.”

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