Polson sophomore Jarrett Wilson has gone from throwing touchdown passes to junior Colton Graham to tossing him lobs for dunks on the hardwood.
It’s a product of the increased uptempo play and the growing trust and cohesiveness within the team as the Pirates have powered to a 6-0 start and No. 3 ranking in Class A despite returning just two starters from a team that snuck into the state tournament last year.
“They have something going we haven’t had in the past,” Polson coach Randy Kelley told 406mtsports.com. Kelley’s team plays at No. 1 Dillon at 6 p.m. Tuesday in a battle of 6-0 teams and the only two remaining undefeated teams in Class A.
“They’re looking to take the next step. We’ve been to state a few times there in past years, but it’s not ended how we wanted. The thing I’m excited about is the kids are working really hard and they’re a fun group.”
Many of the kids played football together for a Pirates team that surprised people early in the season. Kelley, a former football coach, sees how that bonding on the gridiron helps add to the togetherness they have, in addition to their years playing basketball together and being friends.
Wilson has stepped up as the team’s point guard, becoming the leading scorer while running the offense and being “our spark plug on defense,” as Kelley put it. Junior Xavier Fisher has moved into the starting lineup alongside returning starters Trevor Lake and Graham, all three of whom played football. Lake, a senior, has signed to play football at Montana Western.
Kelley has also been impressed with the ability of transfers to step in, be accepted and become contributors. JC Steele transferred from Missoula Sentinel and has signed to play football at Rocky Mountain College. Darian Williams used to live in the Mission Valley but had recently lived in Arizona before moving back, according to Kelley.
The seventh-year head coach feels the uncertainty of finishing a basketball season because of the coronavirus has also helped the team be more focused. They were already eliminated from last year’s state tournament before the final day got canceled, going 0-2 to finish the season with a 13-11 record.
“The kids have been feeding off of each other well, really something I haven’t seen in the past,” Kelley said. “They understand the situation we’re in and feel lucky to be playing. Everybody is enjoying the moment.
“This could come to an end really quick, so they’re buying in, they’re taking care of each other. So, I think it’s partly because of the pandemic, but I also think they’ve matured since our first game of the year and we’ve gotten guys to step into leadership roles.”
The cohesiveness has led to an improved team defense focused on pressing the opponent. The Pirates are limiting teams to 42 points per game and have a point differential of plus-19.8 points per game.
As the defensive turnovers lead to transition offense, Polson is averaging 61.8 points. They’ve reached at least 72 points three times and have maxed out at 81, with all three of those games coming on the road. They did have to tough out a one-point win in their season opener against Hamilton.
Polson already owns a 52-50 win over now-No. 4 Frenchtown (6-1), a team the Pirates lost to all four times they played last season. The Broncs eliminated the Pirates from the state tournament last year, Polson’s first appearance since 2017.
“I think the defense is at a different level than the past,” Kelley said. “It’s definitely uptempo. We like to get up in your face. We’re definitely gambling. We haven’t gambled this much in the past, but we’ve got kids who read each other so well that we create havoc for other teams.
“Then our transition offense is something we work on a lot. There’s a time to go and a time to slow. These kids have done a good job taking care of the ball. I don’t know if we’ve had a group that reads each other so well.”
The Pirates will play their first rivalry game when they host Ronan on Friday. They still have to play the Chiefs and Browning twice and will have a rematch with a maturing Columbia Falls team in the loaded Northwest A race.
Before that, Polson has a non-conference showdown against Dillon. It’s a game that should tell Kelley more about where his team stands.
“They’re hands down the best defensive team in the state,” Kelley said of Dillon. “I’m hoping we go in there and play like we know we can.”
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