Claire Salyer

The ability of Marquette Catholic's Claire Salyer, middle, to make the "hustle plays" has helped her earn her spot as the Blazers' first option off the bench.

Kale Wilk, File, The Times

MICHIGAN CITY — In her first two seasons at Marquette Catholic, Claire Salyer didn't play many varsity minutes.

She didn't let that get her down though. As a sophomore, she logged 28 to 30 minutes a game as the go-to player on the junior varsity. That experience and hard work helped Salyer carve out a niche as the top-ranked Blazers' first option off the bench.

"I was more excited to get in games and change it up a little," she said. "Coach (Katie Collignon) has definitely helped me look at what's really going on out in a game and to just not worry and play my game. I've really focused on that the last year or so, just looking at the players I'm gonna guard and their tendencies."

Collignon recognized Salyer's potential on JV last season and was anxious to see her role expand on varsity.

"She's improved so much since last year just by playing all those minutes and that's provided her experience to be ready to go in our games now," Collignon said. "Claire has worked herself to where she is and she works really hard at practice every day."

At 5-foot-7, Salyer is taller than the rest of Marquette's guards and her wingspan provides another dynamic to the defense.

"She does a great job getting deflections and tips that some of our smaller guards can't," Collignon said. "She plays a little bit different defensively and she's good on the boards, which is awesome from the wing spot. Those things right there get you a spot on the floor."

The numbers — Salyer averages 2.5 points and 2.8 rebounds per game — aren't eye-popping, but production comes in different ways.

"Coach Collignon always talks about being a spark off the bench, whether it's a steal off the help side, poking the ball loose or just keeping a play alive," she said. "I try to be the energy-booster. I don't really worry too much about points. I know I don't score a lot, but I'll help on defense and with rebounds."

While coming off the bench on a consistent basis can grow tiresome for some players, it hasn't for Salyer.

"I like coming off the bench because it allows me to see everything I need to do," she said. "I'll try to see things other girls don't pick up on and I'll watch the guards, especially Morgan (Crook), and see how she's impacting the game with her energy. That helps me realize if we need to go faster or slow it down. With rebounding, I didn't really think of it too much the first two years, but it's now one of my favorite things. I really wanted to help the team on the boards and getting in the middle of it all gives us that high energy."

Collignon appreciates Salyer's willingness to do the dirty work.

"She has a great personality for the role," she said. "She's worked really hard with what she thinks is missing for us and it was the rebounding and the defensive end that we were lacking in some games. She's stepped up huge for us in that way, bringing some intangibles we don't always start with. Every play she's gonna make is a hustle play and who's not going to be excited about that? She's a gamer who loves the game and she makes some spectacular plays that brings a lot of energy to our team."

Last weekend, Salyer posted career highs of nine points and seven rebounds in the regional semifinal win over Oregon-Davis, much to the delight of her teammates.

"The other girls know the potential we have off the bench because they see it every day," Collignon said. "When it comes to fruition like that in a game, it's huge. These girls really enjoy each other and support each other, which is fun because when they make those big plays, it's fun for everybody."

As has been the case since the sectional opener, the Blazers again enter as heavy favorites in the semi-state against a Cinderella-type Tri-Central team that's 16-10.

"We have to come into the game with super high energy," Salyer said. "We'll have to be ready for whatever's coming and to play them like they're the best team in the world. We're not going to underestimate anyone."

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Sports Reporter

CJ grew up shadowing his father, Jim, at various prep events and now follows in his footsteps as a sports reporter at The Times. A Purdue University graduate, his allegiances lie with the Boilermakers, Cincinnati Bengals and Cincinnati Reds.