When Jon Price attended Auburn High School the Trojan girls basketball program was no ordinary program.
From the start of the program in 1974 through the 80s and 90s, the Lady Trojans were dominant, perpetual winners of the North Puget Sound League and South Puget Sound League titles and perennial state tournament competitors.
In fact, prior to 2000 the Auburn girls appeared in the Washington State 4A or 3A championship tourneys an astounding 20 times out of 24 years, winning 16 league titles, three district championships and two state titles.
Since 2000, however, the Trojans have fallen on hard times, moving on to the state tourney just twice in the past 14 seasons.
Price, a 1992 AHS graduate and the program’s new head coach, intends to change that.
“There are ways we’re going to try to make connections and link the past to the present,” Price said. “These girls don’t know that this was the preeminent basketball program in the state. Not in 4A, not in 3A, where they were at the time, but the state. They were the best program in the state under guys like Dennis Olson, Tony Higgins and Ed Bender. We need to get back to what they established here. Which was players that were as tough as nails, and smart.”
No small task for Price, the former Auburn Mountainview boys head coaching girls for the first time.
Last season the Trojans finished last in the SPSL North 4A with a 2-18 record.
According to Price, the change starts with mental attitude, not only in the program, but school wide.
“We’ve got to change the mentality at the school,” Price said. “And we’re going to get there.
“It’s a process,” he added. “It’s not going to take a week, it’s not going to take a year, it’s going to take a lot of time. We’ve gone from zero youth kids playing in the program to 25, with two solid teams. That’s progress, and that will pay off down the road for us. I’m cautiously optimistic. We’ve just got to get kids committed. We’ve got four or five committed, but we need 25.”
To achieve the level of buy-in required to turn the program around, Price said, he’s relying on the leadership of his team co-captains, juniors Mikelle Howard and Sydney Dewitt, to guide the squad.
“He tells us how good they were when he was in school and how we need to build our program back up to that,” Howard said. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but we’ll get there.”
Howard and Dewitt agreed that they will be working on team chemistry.
“We’re planning on doing team bonding and making sure we’re all together,” Howard said.
“It’s about just checking up on each other and making sure we’re all together and on the same page,” Dewitt said. “And helping whenever anyone is having a bad day.”
On the court it’s all about hard work for the team, which boasts one senior, three juniors, four sophomores and two freshman.
“We definitely work hard, we just need to work on execution,” Howard said. “We pressure really well. We don’t always have good attitudes, we need to work on that.”
“As a team we show a lot of effort, we put 110 percent out there,” Dewitt said. “We need to work on our mental attitude. We need to know in our heads when we’re down that we’ve got this game, and that we can get back up.”
According to Price it’s all about doing the small things and taking small steps.
“What we’re talking about is ‘better every day,'” Price said. “We need to be better today than we were yesterday. Better tomorrow than we were today. It’s incremental, but we’ve just got to be better. What I want is effort for 32 minutes every night. I think we’re getting that, for the most part.”
“I’m proud of the girls right now,” Price said. “They say perception is reality and the reality is we need to get better right now. And that’s my perception.”