They all knew it was going to take some time to make this happen.
And a lot of work.
Salem Academy High School’s boys basketball team didn’t have a head coach until late September, and its players got a late start due to the school’s football team making a run to the 3A state championship game.
But after Tuesday’s 53-42 win at rival Blanchet Catholic, the Crusaders have won seven games straight, improved to a tie with Blanchet for first place in the PacWest Conference at 6-1 and are 13-4 overall with the No. 2 ranking in the OSAA’s power rankings.
For a team that didn’t know head coach Ryan Kendall until late September, it’s a remarkable run.
It’s just that it took some patience.
“I love our new coach,” said senior post Markel Moser, who scored 11 points. “He’s such a great coach. So kudos to him.
“He came into a new position, a new role, and he’s done a fabulous job this year.”
When Kendall stepped into the head coaching situation, the pieces were there, but the timing was less than ideal.
He had been hired as a teacher at Salem Academy over the summer and was in the building when the position became available.
Kendall previously coached basketball for 17 years at a bible college in Kansas, Barclay College, and had seven years of coaching basketball at a public high school.
But the timing of this situation made it difficult.
Not only had he missed out on the summer period with the players, most of them were playing on Salem Academy’s football team, which played into late November.
“And I would say probably two or weeks ago I kind of saw who they were,” Kendall said. “And I told them from the beginning, I don’t want to come in and say here’s who you’re going to be. I want to come in and say here’s who I am, but I want to get a chance to know who you are.
“I think they figured me out, I think I figured them out, and that’s what’s dictating what we’re doing offensively and defensively.”
What Salem Academy is doing is what they have always been best at: Playing up-tempo on offense to control the pace of the game and suffocating man-to-man defense like the effort that held Blanchet to 5 of 17 from the field in the first half Tuesday.
That kind of defense leads to a lot of easy baskets on offense, which allows Salem Academy’s players to fully display their athletic ability.
“That’s the goal in every game, not just against a team like Blanchet,” Kendall said. “Our goal is to get the ball up and down and to try to take our opponents out of their game.
“Blanchet, they got good players and they run a nice, high screen. They got good shooters, they’re patient, so we knew in order to get a win tonight, you’re going to have to try to do that defensively. And that defense creates offense for us.”
The level of play Salem Academy displayed Tuesday was a big leap forward from when the Crusaders lost 50-42 to Blanchet on Jan. 4.
The team plays with hustle and its depth is truly showing.
There have been six or seven players who have led the team in scoring in games this season, and it’s making the team hard to defend.
“They’re a good team,” Blanchet coach Scott Cantonwine said. “Some of those kids have played varsity basketball since they were freshmen.
“They played football a week longer than we did. So the first league game of the season was a very meaningful game, and now the seventh league game of the season was a very meaningful game.”
Kendall is Salem Academy’s fourth head coach for this senior class.
But that group of nine seniors has been playing together for years.
Those seniors have tasted success and proved their athletic prowess.
And they committed to the change and took the necessary steps, and had the patience, to make this situation work.
“The team chemistry is pretty key in this,” said senior Skyler Williams, who scored 17 points. “We’ve all been playing with each other since seventh grade and so we all know what we do, we all know what we’re good at and we get the win.”
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com or Twitter.com/bpoehler