Walk into the gymnasium at Mountain Pointe High School and you’d be convinced that the Pride girls basketball team was in the middle of a state championship run even though summer has barely begun.

But with a new head coach, the girls are putting in hours of practice to learn an entirely new system.

“We have been doing a lot of teaching and they have been responsive. They have been hungry for new information; they are hungry to get coached,” said coach Justin Hager, who became the Pride’s girls basketball coach in April. “They are a good bunch of kids, they are sponges and they want to learn, that’s the main thing.”

Hager, who previously coached at Cibola High School in Yuma, hopes to instill the same winning ingredients in Mountain Pointe’s team that earned him AIA Division II Coach of the Year for the 2013-14 season.

“My coaching philosophy is character, integrity and making these kids into young woman who are cohesive and can work together to reach a certain goal,” he said. “Basketball is just a piece to drive them into the next game of their life. It’s a game of life, that’s what I am trying to prepare them for.”

The players have enjoyed the transition to their new coach and his new system.

“He is a great guy, he really knows what he is doing,” said Bailey Osmer, a senior guard. “He has put in a lot of stuff that is different to help us out and we are really moving forward as a group.”

After going to the second round of the state championships last year and getting a new coach with an impressive history, the team has generated high expectations for the coming season.

“It is a great challenge for everyone. Ultimately, your first goal is to win your section and win a region but our goal is to improve individually and as a team from last year,” said Hager. “The past is the past, this is a new challenge for me and I am excited about it but we have a lot of work to do.”

Added Osmer: “There are a lot of expectations on us because of how far we made it last year, were trying to go to state this year.”

For Mountain Pointe to make a deep run into the state championships, Osmer said early success is key.

They got a little taste of it when the Pride finished runner-up in the Arizona Christian summer tournament the first weekend of June.

“It is really important, we need to be ready and know what we are doing and have it be smooth here on out.”

* DeGrote is an Arizona State journalism student interning at the East Valley Tribune.

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