SKC Lady Bison ready to defend AIHEC National title

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  • THE SALISH KOOTENAI COLLEGE Lady Bisons basketball poses for a picture in the locker room prior to their season-opening game. The Lady Bison will be the defending AIHEC champions as they prepare to head into the 2017-2018 season. (photo courtesy of Salis Perez)

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    SALISH KOOTENAI COLLEGE players Braylee Stone, Shanelle Skunkcap and Whitney Malatare all showcase their big accomplishments after the team captured its fifth-ever AIHEC National Tournament. The three players will be key returners in SKC's quest to defend their AIHEC National Championship. (photo courtesy of Juan Perez)

  • THE SALISH KOOTENAI COLLEGE Lady Bisons basketball poses for a picture in the locker room prior to their season-opening game. The Lady Bison will be the defending AIHEC champions as they prepare to head into the 2017-2018 season. (photo courtesy of Salis Perez)

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    SALISH KOOTENAI COLLEGE players Braylee Stone, Shanelle Skunkcap and Whitney Malatare all showcase their big accomplishments after the team captured its fifth-ever AIHEC National Tournament. The three players will be key returners in SKC's quest to defend their AIHEC National Championship. (photo courtesy of Juan Perez)

After 14 seasons as the Salish Kootenai College assistant coach, Salis Perez will take over as the head coach for the Lady Bisons for the 2017-2018 campaign.

The move transpired after Lady Bisons head coach Juan Perez, who coached the SKC women’s team to its fifth-ever American Indian Higher Education National Basketball Championship title (AIHEC) at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 basketball season, made the decision to put more of an emphasis on the Polson High School team. During the off season, Juan Perez was hired by Polson to take over the Lady Pirates’ basketball program.

Perez, who has also been a significant part of the five consecutive AIHEC championships titles as an assistant, admits that he is taking on a lot more responsibility as a head coach but also acknowledges the players are a integral part of a team’s success in its quest to win a national championship.

“To be a head coach, it’s actually a lot more responsibility,” Perez admitted. “However, it’s the players that win those championships because they do all of the hard work.”

Perez admits there will be pressure and expectations for his 2017-2018 Lady Bisons to repeat last season’s accomplishments of capturing the AIHEC National Title.

“That is the thing with inheriting a successful team is the pressure to repeat and defend the championship title,” Perez admits. “We will face some tough competition at AIHEC. It’s really about the team that steps up and competes on the court. I am very excited for my team headed into this season.”

The pressure to repeat as champions this season will be even greater considering the Lady Bison will have nine players returning from the team that captured the AIHEC title in 2016-2017.

“Starting wise, we only lost one starter on the team,” Perez said. “We also have four starters that were named to the AIHEC All-Tournament team. It’s a pretty solid group of returners coming back.”

The players named to the AIHEC All-Tournament team were Whitney Malatare, Braylee Stone, Shanelle Skunkcap, and Kaylea Skunkcap.

Perez admits that capturing back-to-back titles will be a “challenge.”

“It’s a challenge and it will always be challenging when you are returning with the team that we have because there is always going to be high expectations,” Perez said. “However, at SKC we expect to compete for a national championship every year.”

This season the Lady Bison’s schedule is loaded with competition in the early portion of their schedule. SKC will play more varsity NAIA teams on their schedule.

“The early part of our season is really loaded with NAIA varsity teams,” Perez said. “This is the first year we are facing the varsity teams. Last year, we played a lot of their JV teams and it’s been a real learning process for our woman. They’ve learned by watching these NAIA teams what kind of dedication and commitment it takes to be competitive on the court against some of those NAIA opponents.”

Perez said he felt the difficult early schedule will be beneficial to his team in the long run.

“I think our girls have been real competitors on the court against NAIA schools and even though the score doesn’t’ show, it doesn’t necessarily reflect how hard the women are playing,” Perez said. “They have accepted the challenge, and are competing and being competitive. Sometimes that doesn’t reflect in the box score but our woman have worked hard for four quarters.”

Playing NAIA schools is a part of a long-term initiative to possibly move up into a more competitive conference for SKC.

“Somewhere down the road, SKC continues to grow and some day they will be able to offer other athletic programs,” Perez said. “Maybe some day we will become part of a conference and that is always the dream.”

The SKC Lady Bison’s team gets a chance to lay the foundation for future generation players as they continue to work hard to build on their illustrious tradition.

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