Perry girls' basketball out to prove doubters wrong in postseason

Feb. 6—The Perry girls' basketball program has taken its fair share of lumps this season.

They were without key players for the first half of the season due to transfer rules. During that time, they also dealt with injuries to those that were able to play. They went to Texas to face some of the top programs in the country. When they returned to Arizona, their schedule didn't get much easier.

The team is young, with four freshman, four sophomores and just a handful of juniors and a senior making up the roster. But they've also now had time to mesh, though it took longer than Head Coach Andrew Curtis would have liked.

Nonetheless, as Perry now sets its sights on the postseason, Curtis is confident his girls will make a statement.

"We've found our groove and found our toughness," Curtis said. "I don't think the rankings take everything into account. We really challenge ourselves with our out-of-state schedule. We want to play in the Open and try to win the Open. If that doesn't happen, we're going to try to win every game in front of us."

While most teams with a solidified spot in the playoffs may take practices lightly to not risk unnecessary injury, Curtis took advantage of having a fully healthy roster for just one of the few times all season.

Perry faced two of the top teams in the state in Xavier and Hamilton during the final stretch of the regular season, losing both games. To prepare for the brutal two-game run, Curtis challenged his players to get their competitive juices flowing.

A typical practice ended with short games of full-court basketball. Some starters were mixed with off-the-bench contributors for an eight-minute period. Big shot after big shot the girls celebrated. After every foul or hard layup in the paint, there was some friendly trash talk.

Though, that was often stopped with a 3-pointer on the other end. It was the type of practice Curtis was hoping for from his girls. It kept them fresh. It kept them hungry. Overall, he couldn't have asked for a better showing.

"I think they took their lumps against us last year, so they returned the favor this year," Curtis said. "I think the biggest thing with us is consistency. We tried to lump five plays together. Now we're learning how to get a stop and then have a good possession on offense. One at a time, that's been a big thing for us."

Perry currently sits outside of the Open Division bracket. That in itself is a disappointment for Curtis and his players.

The Pumas pride themselves on being among the state's best for years now. Last year they made a run to the Open Division semifinals and fell to Millennium. They made the title game in 2022 but fell to Valley Vista.

Two straight years the title has been within reach. Junior captain Isabella Ivy was a part of the roster for both teams. She now finds herself explaining what it takes to made runs of that caliber to the freshmen and sophomores, along with some transfers who were never in that position before.

"Every second counts," Ivy said. "We just have to keep continuing forward and not worry about what happened in the last play."

Ivy has become the perfect leader for Curtis at point guard. She commands the offense and sets plays in motion. She has savvy ball skills and isn't afraid to pull up from anywhere on the court of drive to the lane for contact. She has the same scrappy mentality on defense.

She acknowledged how hard this season has been on the team.

Perry finally appeared to be turning a corner back in December when it beat district rival Chandler 76-45. It was the show of dominance that Curtis and Ivy knew the team was capable of with a full roster. Then, however, the team was hit with the illness bug.

Some players contracted the cold or flu, others had pneumonia that sidelined them. Injuries began to pile up yet again as players were asked to play extra minutes. Perry continued to win games it should have, but those against powerhouses like Xavier ended in lopsided scores. Ivy said that boils down to team chemistry.

"Team chemistry at the beginning of the year wasn't really there," she said. "We had a lot of injuries but as the season has gone on, the chemistry has been tight. So, we've been doing good together."

Playing in big games for a big-time program was what drew Maci Hess to transfer from nearby Casteel this season.

The junior was a standout for the Colts but felt a move to play for the Pumas was necessary to face the level of competition she desired. She said the move has been well worth it, even if it did mean sitting out the first half of the season and enduring through the other struggles with the team.

She's now become a key contributor alongside fellow transfer Bella Burcar, who made the move from Flagstaff. They've began to mesh well with the rest of the roster and finally string together some much needed wins.

"We're trying to find a way to keep it more consistent," Hess said. "It's just being a family, coming together on and off the court, that prevents a lot of the issues."

Perry was aiming for a spot in the Open again this season. However, the Pumas may very well find themselves on the outside looking in.

They know what they're capable of. That's why the Open was the goal. But should they fall into the 6A bracket, they're going to do what it takes to hoist a gold ball at the end of the season.

"We have nothing to lose," Hess said. "We might as well go and put it all out there. We all believe in each other. As long as we play confident, we'll play our best."

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira.