Polson High School boys basketball coach Randy Kelley and his Pirates’ team is still working on carving out the team’s identity as they prepare to enter the 2017-2018 season.
Last season, Polson finished third in the state behind a nucleus of five seniors that helped propel them to the state tournament. Matthew Rensvold, Tanner Wilson, Jeremiah North Piegan, J’von Johnson and Jayden Bautista have all graduated.
The Pirates will miss Rensvold and Wilson’s athletic versatility. The two players became the first football players to sign with the University of Montana Grizzlies’ football program since Kirk Murphy did in 1987. Murphy ended up playing with the U of M for four seasons from 1987-1991. Bautista also continued his athletic career at Salish Kootenai College.
In spite of losing a nucleus of players, Kelley still has a foundation of players to work with as the Pirates continue to find out who they are as a team.
“I think some of the kids that played last year such as Shade Main and Conner Lanier are ahead of where they were last year and they will probably be some of our (team) leaders,” Kelley said.
During the month of December, Kelley wants his team to experiment so they can establish team continuity and chemistry.
“We are going to use the month of December to just find out how our players to play together and we will have a lot of kids that play early on,” Kelley said. “It will take a little bit of time to get an idea of which kids play best. (Our team) doesn’t have a lot of game experience together.”
Kelley said he has seen improvement in his team’s overall skill during every practice.
“I see (improvement) in each and every practice and we are adding quite a bit as far as the defensive end,” Kelley said. “The kids are taking it in and making improvements in every single practice. This coming Saturday against Stevi, we will see what we can learn in our first game.”
Kelley said he is going to allow the Pirates offense “more freedom” in order to find its niche either as a perimeter team or interior team. As of this point with the personal Kelley has, he said he felt the Pirates’ offense will be more of a perimeter game.
“I think that is where we are at right now and where we are at, we have shooters that aren’t afraid to shoot the three-ball,” Kelley said. “We have a lot of players that are young and don’t have a lot of varsity time. We have some juniors and a few sophomores that will help out in that area.”
Kelley said the early freedom he will allow his Pirates team will help his team establish its identity.
“We will be a little wide with our defensive system and put all of the kids we can get in to give different looks for the defensive system,” Kelley said. “We will come along with our offense and we still have a ways to go with our offensive continuity. In the past three years, we would work the ball inside to Matthew. It’s a little different this year. We are going to give our kids a little bit more freedom to shoot the ball, push it and play a little more up-tempo because we want to run.”
After the Pirates play their season-opening game against Stevensville on Dec. 2, they will travel to Missoula to play in the Western A Tip-Off Tournament against Corvallis and Butte Central.
The reclassification doesn’t directly affect Polson but should alter the competitive dynamics of the Pirates’ conference. Browning, Libby and Ronan will all be additions to the Class A Northwest Conference.
“The teams are going to play better than they did last year,” Kelley said. “Butte Central was young last year and they have some shoes to fill but they also have a lot of kids coming back. They have a good group coming back and a little size and strength. They can also shoot the ball from the perimeter.”