HOUGHTON - After accounting for 16 points, four assists and two steals per game last season, all on 43/40/80 shooting percentages, it would appear difficult for point guard Sam Hoyt to make major improvements in her senior year.
But with the Michigan Tech women's basketball team missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years, both Hoyt and coach Kim Cameron identified one area Hoyt needed to step up.
After leading for two years with her play, she needed to take a more vocal approach as a senior.
Michigan Tech’s Sam Hoyt dribbles around a Grand Valley State defender during a game last season. Hoyt is one of two seniors and the starting point guard on the 2012-13 Huskies. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
"As a senior and a captain, I think all the girls look up to me, so when I say things and I am being vocal then they are being louder and we are communicating more," Hoyt said. "So I do feel like I kind of need to do that."
The difference in practice has been noticeable. Hoyt encourages after strong play and demands energy when the team is in a down period.
Cameron has always been able to rely on Hoyt to take the team in the right direction. Now more than ever.
"She has been so good, so good," Cameron said. "We talked about her with it after last season and you can really see she has made efforts to (be more vocal.) It's great for our team, because I think everyone else wants to win so badly for her."
In Hoyt's senior season, it is apparent how badly Hoyt wants to win as giving directions does not come nearly as easy to her as an open three-pointer.
"Yeah, it doesn't (come naturally.) It took a lot of work," Hoyt said. "My freshman year I don't know if I ever said anything. And then my sophomore year coach wanted me to take more of a leadership role. She kept telling me to communicate more and be a leader on the court, so I started working on it then. I got a little better last year and I am still working on it."
One player in particular who should benefit from Hoyt's leadership is freshman shooting guard MacKenzie Perttu.
Perttu possesses a college-ready offensive skill set - three-point range and ability to finish at the rim - but has played up and down in preseason practices.
With the Huskies in need of another perimeter scorer to complement Hoyt, especially to compete with GLIAC North Division favorite Ferris State, the senior has taken Perttu under her wing.
"She can be a huge scorer," Hoyt said. "She is still a freshman and still getting used to this level and this competition and she is still a little nervous, but I think as the year progresses, and really soon, she is going to break out.
"This preseason we were shooting partners, so I did drills with her, worked on her with her driving and just trying to be more aggressive," Hoyt added. "When she is struggling in practice I am just trying to talk to her and get her going."
In the front court, while Taylor Stippel is primed for a big year offensively - the junior forward was picked to the preseason All-GLIAC second team - Tech is still trying to figure out how to replace graduated defensive ace Lindsey Lindstrom.
The three-time all-GLIAC defender could guard any position on the floor, and took the opponent's best scorer night in and night out.
Cameron has already accepted that no one player will replace Lindstrom - though redshirt freshman Dani Blake possesses the best chance with 6-foot length and quick-twitch reflexes - and is counting on improved communication to lead to improved team defense.
"We heard coaches from other schools tell us this summer, 'We want a Lindsey Lindstrom,'" Cameron said. "She is few and far between. Even now, we watched all of our films from last year and you don't realize how easy she made things look. You don't realize how much she did without anybody really knowing until it's not there anymore."
Hoyt is taking it on herself to quarterback the sans-Lindstrom defensive shell.
Particularly in a matchup with national championship contenders Ashland, a team sporting a true five-threat offense, a stronger team defense could give Tech a chance.
"Defensively, the team as a whole needs to step up," Hoyt said. "Anyone can be guarding the best player, so now all of us are more responsible. I think that is a good thing, because it makes all of us accountable."
Along with Stippel, Paige Albi will be counted on for starter's minutes and production this season.
Albi will start at shooting guard, but expect to see the fearless junior throwing her body around in the paint pretty often.
"Paige is very talented, but what pushes her ahead and makes her stand out from everyone is she hustles on every single play," Cameron said. "She dives for every ball. She is the one going for every single rebound. Everything is done with a little bit extra."
At the backup forward spots, Cameron is still searching for the right combination with the 6-foot-4 Emily Harrison, Blake and freshman Kylie Moxley.
If Moxley's learning curve remains on the steep slope she showed in preseason, the freshman could cement a place in the rotation by season's end.
"As soon as we had a chance to see her we stopped considering it," Cameron said of a potential redshirt. "She is very strong, especially for a freshman post player. She is incredible at sealing her player, she is very smart, she has caught on to everything right away."
Lingering questions remain, however, over the availability of senior Emma Veach and junior Kate Glodowski.
Veach has been limited in practice all preseason - dealing with a recurring knee injury - while Glodowski has yet to suit up with a foot injury. Cameron has no timetable for the return of Glodowski.
For Veach, it will be a game by game, often practice by practice, decision.
"We are just going to go with however she feels and keep her as healthy as we can," Cameron said.