Editor’s Note — The following story was written prior to Perry’s game against Delphos Jefferson Wednesday night.
PERRY TOWNSHIP – Perry is starting to shed its reputation as an easy win.
For the past several years, teams facing the Commodore girls usually expected to come away with a victory and almost always by a large margin.
After all, Perry is 11-95 overall and 4-27 in Northwest Central Conference action in its last five seasons. The last time Perry had more than four wins was back in 2013.
But this year, thanks to some solid leadership both on and off the court, the Commodores are learning how to win and teams are finding out you can’t just show up and a get a W.
Perry has opened the year with a 3-3 record and a 1-1 mark
John Berens, who took over as head coach last year, said he is pleased with the progress but knows there is plenty of work still to do.
“To be honest we are not quite there yet,” Berens said. “We are pleased with our start. We are ecstatic about it but there is still so much more work to do. The kids are now just getting to realize that ‘you know what we can compete with teams.’ Are we going to win every game? No. But we are not getting beat by 40 points like we did last year.”
Berens added that the skill set is still a work in progress but at least the mindset has shifted from expecting to lose to wanting to win.
“When I look at them now they don’t look at me like we are going to get killed. They look at me like what can we do and how can we win this game,” Berens said. “That is a 360 turn from last year. “
Taking over a program in 2018 that had a losing reputation, Berens said he knew there were plenty of challenges he had to face and in his first year, it was evident, the winning was not going to happen overnight.
“We knew they were very young and had played a lot of sophomores the year before we took the job and my staff and I knew we would take it on the chin a lot before we put in our system and try to get the girls to do what we wanted to do and there wasn’t a whole lot of winning going on the last four or five years. We knew it was going to take some time.”
Even though the Commodores went 2-22 in his first season, Berens brought to the program some much needed structure and discipline to a group of girls who were tired of losing.
Berens pointed that he immediately noticed that this team came in with a strong work ethic and that was something he knew he could build on with this collection of determined girls.
“They played hard and we never had to drill that in their head. You could check that box off and move ahead down the road,” Berens said.
Berens noticed this past summer that a change had come over the team as they came in with a renewed vigor for success and he saw them compete in different scrimmages and shootouts. Berens can’t put his finger on exactly what the difference was but he knew that a lot of the girls had worked hard during the off season and were also ready for some winning.
It was a contest in a summer league against Lima Senior that Berens said he saw the team’s confidence and attitude building.
“I think the best night of that whole league was when we beat Lima Senior and it may not have meant a lot to Lima Senior and I know it was a summer league game but you could see something click with our kids,” Berens said. “Lima Senior has an awesome basketball team and for us to compete with them, and ‘so-called’ beat them in that league was really a turning point for us.”
Berens saw that same type of attitude entering the season and even though they opened with a pair of losses, the Commodores followed it up with three-straight wins, and that proved to be a major confidence builder.
A 46-39 loss to Elgin followed those three wins, but Berens said that defeat probably taught his team more than the three victories.
“I think the Elgin loss was better than the three wins if that sounds right just because they are probably going to be the league favorite again and we go to their building and that game was close with about three minutes to go,” Berens said. “That game could have gone either way and we could have never done that last year. They beat us at our building last year by 40. It was night and day the way we competed.”
Berens added that wins are great but that was a good learning loss and the kids were disappointed and that is also a good thing because he saw the team cared about losing which meant they were both physically and mentally involved.
“I don’t know if it is something our staff is doing but the kids are tired of getting beat,” Berens said. “They are tired that they can’t compete and I hope we have done something to turn that around.”
Berens gives total credit to his team for the turnaround. Led by Tia Barfield, the team features a number of talented juniors such as Lily Floyd, Trinity Gurley, Brooke Miller, Makiah Denson and Zie Thompson, and seniors Semira Healey, Caitlyn Shively and Allysia Oberlin.
Better rebounding has also been a factor in the team’s success. Berens said rebounding was stressed in the summer and preseason and the importance of grabbing caroms and added that have shown vast improvement in this area even against taller squads.
Berens said that in addition to better rebounding, the team has also stepped up their defensive efforts.
“I think we are athletic where we can do some things,” Berens said. “We trap a little bit but we’ve embraced defense and rebounding all of a sudden and it is nice to see. For us to be competitive we have to play defense and rebound and they have responded to that very well.
Berens understand that this is the start of the journey and it is going to take some time to fully get to where he wants to be but feels the team is heading in the right direction.
“I think the mentality part still needs to be worked on,” Berens said. “You have to get better every day and that is what we are trying to hammer into them. You can’t take a day off. You really can’t. We are making baby steps and the progress has been very good.”