Shelby’s girls basketball team enjoyed a winning season last year, but with many of the Tigers’ top performers back, their sights are set higher in 2021.

The only major graduation loss on the team was Sharon Josephson, who was a valued leader. However, since Josephson was injured much of last season, Shelby has already adjusted to a lineup without her, which should help the team start the season sharp.

That will be extra important in 2021 after an off-season marred by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tigers were unable to hold much in the way of summer events, and the past couple of months saw another statewide pause in sports practices.

Shelby coach Sarah Wolting said much of the team has already had and recovered from the virus, which isn’t ideal, but should help keep the team from having to weather outbreaks this season.

“I think that it is important for us to keep our circle small, and I stress that to the girls daily,” Wolting said. “Sit by each other in class, or if no other basketball players (are in your class), sit away from others as much as possible. It will be an interesting season, and we will be ready.”

The biggest reasons Shelby will be ready are returning top players Kendall Zoulek and Lexi Schultz. The duo complement each other well, with the senior Schultz providing the slash-and-score game from her point guard spot and the junior Zoulek the most likely recipient of Schultz’ passes in the paint. Schultz is also a valuable defender, while Zoulek is unafraid to battle inside for rebounds.

Other key Tigers will include senior Lauren Dean, who’s capable of catching fire from long range at any time, and juniors Lauren Brown and Ella Olmstead, both long, athletic and tough players in the paint.

Wolting said the group has a strong chemistry with one another, which will be important on and off the court this season.

“This group of girls really goes hard at each other every day and wants to be better for each other,” Wolting said.

Shelby expects to be a West Michigan Conference contender, but last year’s top two teams, defending champ Montague and runner-up Hart, should be formidable once again. Wolting said Whitehall and Mason County Central will also likely be tough opponents.

“Our conference will be tough this year, and I really think that with COVID issues, any team has the ability to beat anyone,” Wolting said.