Perry junior Madison Connor

Perry junior Madison Connor recognizes the skill she and the rest of her teammates have on the court. Their ability to work together has been key to their success this season.

The Perry Pumas’ girls’ basketball team is looking to make a statement this season that they are not only among the top teams in the state, but in the entire Southwest region of the United States.

Led by a group of eight juniors, they are looking to show how they’ve continued growing in the offseason to make a run at the state championship once again this season.

Last year, the Pumas lost in the 6A quarterfinals to Valley Vista. But that loss fueled a fire inside of them to come back even stronger this year. Perry coach Andrew Curtis said pairing the girls’ hard work and determination to come back even better will make for an explosive combination with the high level of talent on the team.

“When the ball is moving and we are playing the right way, good things happen,” Curtis said.

Despite having a plethora of talented players who have the ability to single-handedly carry the team, the Pumas know there is an unmatched strength that comes when they work as a team.  

“It’s the Perry Puzzle, we’re deep,” Curtis said. “We’ve got players who could be stars on other teams. They could score more and get more shots. Everybody has to sacrifice on our team. It’s about the Perry Puzzle and everybody has a part and we embrace everybody on the team.”

Three players in particular have stepped up to the plate to take on the leadership roles needed for the team.

Juniors Tatyanna Clayburne, Madison Conner and Nicole Smith all fully understand how important it is to be able to work as a team and fully embrace the idea of the “Perry Puzzle.”

Curtis helps to facilitate team bonding by providing the girls with snacks and a space to get homework and studying done before practices and games during the season. The girls all meet up to not only bond over food and laughs, but also utilize the time to work on any homework they have and use each other as resources.

Clayburne, who not only has a major leadership role on the court, also steps up when it comes to helping her teammates out academically.

At the group gatherings, you can often find Clayburne tutoring her teammates who need help in areas like math, going over problems with them on the white board and figuring out how to solve them.

It’s just one of the many ways that Clayburne looks to lead by example both on and off the court.

“I take great pride in it,” Clayburne said. “Everybody follows behind, so I want to make a good example and have a good base for the team.”

By creating an environment where the girls feel comfortable with each other and knows they can depend on each other off the court, it creates a stronger bond on the court. The bond shows when the take the court for every game, as they are not only able to effectively communicate with each other, but they also are able to pass the ball, set up screens, rebound and create plays.

The “we before me” mentality of Perry’s team is something that’s shared among all of the girls who put on a uniform.

“I love seeing everybody else prosper,” Clayburne said. “If it’s not me, if I’m not doing good, I want to see other people doing good. It’s the whole point. We’ve grown together, it’s all love, it’s all care, it’s trust between all of us.”

With this mentality comes the power to take their skills on the court to the next level.

The Pumas are aware of this, and it’s what they believe will set them apart from their competition this season as they look to show why they have a legitimate shot at making it deep into the playoffs.

“We have an intensity and we are really deep. We don’t just have five kids, our bench helps us,” Conner said. “It’s not just one or two kids. It’s not just offense or defense. It’s all-around. It’s everything. It’s going to be a great season and I’m excited.”

“We want to make the statement that we are the best,” Smith added. “That’s our goal this year.

“We want to make it to state, and every day that we put in work our goal is to just be the best that we can be.”

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