Salish Kootenai College Lady Bison’s basketball team didn’t repeat at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, but still landed themselves hardware capturing third place at the tournament March 1-3 at 4 Bears Casino & Lounge in New Town, N.D.
The Lady Bison, who finished first at the 2016-2017 AIHEC championship, fell to Wahpeton, N.D. team that featured several talented players from Texas they went against.
According to Lady Bison coach Silas Perez the competition level for AIHEC gets stronger with each passing year.
“The competition level has certainly increased from last year and the team that beat us in the semifinal, that was their first year being here and they came with a pretty powerful ball club,” Silas Perez said. “Each team at AIHEC made some pretty significant gains.”
Now the Lady Bison, just like their male counterparts, will have to start the process of rebuilding like they do every season. The Bison and Lady Bison, because they don’t disperse scholarships to athletes like teams in the NAIA’s Pioneer League, will begin the challenge of rebuilding their team next season with a population of student athletes.
“Every year, it’s a challenge and part of our challenge begins in Sept. because we are never sure who we have returning from season to season,” Silas Perez said. “That is what we will have to work on come September and that is where the real challenge is once you get to AIHEC.”
The Lady Bison started out at AIHEC strong, but fell just short in their quest to return to the AIHEC Championship.
“We were in the top two in our pool play but we had three teams in the second pool and that was the difference in competition,” Silas Perez said. “In Division I, you have to show up and be prepared to play and face the better teams in the Division I bracket.”
Silas, who coached in place of his brother Juan Perez, who coached the Polson High School Lady Pirates for the 2017-2018 season, said his first-ever year as the Lady Bisons’ head coach was a transition.
“The first season as a head coach was a transition and it was a learning experience,” Silas Perez said. “It was significant because of the strategy of the game, the game management and running players through different drills. I think the experience gave me a lot to think about in the off season and certainly made me think about the game of basketball differently.”
One aspect Perez had to get used to as the head coach was getting his team acclimated to the logistics of travel.
“You get use to all of the logistics of travel and making sure that you’ve got uniforms and all of that stuff,” Salis Perez said. “There is a lot of game management involved and making sure players show up to practice.”
The Bison traveled a lot of miles playing teams from the NAIA and other tribal schools this year.
“We’ve been to Billings, Lewistown, Dillon, Browning and Rocky Boy this year,” Silas Perez said. “There is quite a bit of travel. Some of the travel you go and play a game that day. Our players would have to stretch and go play a basketball game, but our women are pretty resilient in that sense.”
As Silas Perez got the hang of coaching, he said it could also be as rewarding as it was challenging.
“Coaching has its rewards when you get some growth and development of your players,” Silas Perez said. “They continue to make improvements from day one and you get to see their growth in conditioning. You get to see your players’ basketball IQ increase and your players are just starting to get it now. When they first start conditioning and they are just sucking air, we tell them ‘your body will eventually adjust’ if you put in the work. It was a pleasure to watch players become mentally stronger and as a coach, that is rewarding.”
This was the Lady Bison’s first full year playing the NAIA varsity squads and Silas Perez said he felt Pioneer League teams were an “experience” for both him and the coaching staff.
“I think we learned that we have to be stronger and we need to work more on our conditioning,” Silas Perez said after his team played all of the NAIA varsity squads this year. “We have to build an understanding of offensive and defensive execution, and be disciplined enough to play within that framework.”
Perez said playing against NAIA schools helped him grow as a coach and his players grow their basketball IQs.
“You get to see the different styles of the different basketball philosophies that other programs have,” Silas Perez said. “That certainly helps us as coaches because we begin to understand the game better and impart that knowledge to our players so they can understand the game better.”
As Silas and Juan look forward to preparing for the upcoming games as coaching staff, they have learned a lot from his first AIHEC experience as a head coach and got to play in a nice venue.
“4 Bears was really something else and it sure is a nice facility,” Silas Perez said.
The Lady Bison, who retained its nucleus of core players from last season, will look again to try to reach the main stage of AIHEC as they prepare to move forward into the 2018-2019 season.