Polson High School girls basketball coach Juan Perez didn’t waste any time trying to establish a similar culture to his new team that made Salish Kootenai College women’s basketball team five-time national American Indian Higher Education Consortium basketball champions.
Perez is aware some of his philosophical approaches will have to be modified because of the difference in age group but on the first official day of practice on Nov. 16, he talked to his team about his expectations.
“Part of what I talked to them about in the first day of practice was that I was looking to establish what our program is going to be all about this year,” Perez said. “We are going to be disciplined, work hard and we are going to have high expectations and high team standards.”
As the new leader of the Polson Lady Pirates, Perez said he wants to not only establish his standards but also wants his team to play with a tenacity every night when they compete.
The Lady Pirates, who will be in a revamped Class A league this year with the addition of traditional basketball powers Browning, Ronan and Libby, will also be faced this season with a different competitive dynamic than they had last season.
“We want them to play with high energy in practice and get them to understand we are doing everything together as a team,” Perez said. “In order to be successful, we have to do this all together, support each other and root each other on in the process of establishing a foundation for our program.”
Perez knows, in order for his team to achieve its goals and buy into his philosophical approach, they have to practice like they play in the regular games.
“I have some goals for the team in mind and we have to do practice the way we play on the court,” Perez said. “We will approach every practice with a game mentality and that mentality starts with the way practice is because how we practice carries over into the game. If we work hard in practice and do the right things in practice, good things will happen in the game. My goal will be to try to get some early wins on our schedule right off the bat.”
Last season, the Lady Pirates started their season against some of the top-tier teams in the Missoula Tip-Off Classic. Perez said he felt this season won’t be any different but also acknowledged there will be a learning curve for him as a coach transitioning from coaching 15 years at the collegiate level to his first-ever season as a high school head coach.
“You want to get some kind of gauge on the teams that we will be playing in Northwest Class A and at this point, I honestly don’t know a lot about them,” Perez admits. “We will play some of the teams that we played last year in Districts and Divisionals. Butte Central will be a good team. We know going into the regular season schedule that it is going to be a challenge and that will be a good gauge on where our team is at early in the season. We will have to build on that and play tough teams to start out the year. The rest will take care of itself after that.”
Perez has some early goals his team would like to achieve but he doesn’t want to apply too much pressure on his team as they prepare to start the season.
“I am not going to put too much pressure on the girls that we have to be at this point or that point because basketball is kind of a long season,” Perez said. “I just want them to work hard and improve every time we step out on the court. We may struggle at first but ultimately, we are going to be better than yesterday.”
Perez and his coaching staff will have Terry Souhrada as the junior varsity coach and Brook Weidman will be the freshman coach. Perez said he hopes it will be a successful transition coaching from college to high school this season.
“It is my first time coaching high school and for the last 16 years, I’ve been a coach at SKC,’ Perez said. “This is all I’ve known coaching wise and that is going to be a big part of the transition. There are different ways that you deal with younger people than you do with adults and I also have the parents to think about too because they are a little more involved in high school sports. I think they are a little more visible than they are at the college level.”
The Lady Pirates will have an intrasquad scrimmage at 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2 at Linderman Elementary that the public is welcome to attend.