Saugus Girls Basketball coach Jason Conn believes in tough love.
Saugus (2-3) is coming off three straight seasons with losing records in Foothill League play. This year the Centurions will be a younger team, but a better team, Conn believes. As Saugus builds its program, Conn is relying on a unique approach to basketball to build character and success.
Every Tuesday, Saugus’ girls varsity team scrimmages Saugus’ boys freshman team. Most of the girls learn to be more aggressive against the taller and lankier boys. Conn said the boys don’t go lightly on his team.
“They’re just freshman, but they’re so much stronger and so much faster,” Conn said. “It’s helped us immensely because we have to get back on defense quicker. Everything is just quicker.”
“Speed, fitness and strength come in when playing against the boys, so we will get better with their help.”
Last season guard Maryrose Elias, now a senior, made the All-Foothill League first team.
She said scrimmages against the freshman boys make her team tougher.
“It’s a lot of dirty work,” Elias said.
Junior guard Danny Diaz also feels scrimmaging the boys improves the team.
“It’s better than just practicing with our teammates,” Diaz said. “If we play hard with them, then we’re going to play hard with the other teams we play with.”
During the 2015-16 season, his first year as coach, Conn guided the Centurions to a 16-13 campaign, their first winning record in four years. Still, Saugus finished just 3-7 in Foothill League play, a slight improvement from Foothill League records of 2-8 and 0-10 in 2014-2015 and 2013-2014, respectively.
The team made the CIF-Southern Section 2AA playoffs, but lost, 68-39, to Woodbridge High of Irvine in the first round.
Saugus will be a young team with three seniors, three juniors and two sophomores. Conn also said he plans to start three of the four freshmen on the team. Despite being younger, Conn believes this year’s team has better athletes who play more basketball in their free time than last year’s team.
“We’re a young team, but I think we’re a solid team,” Conn said.
One day after Saugus’ season opening 54-37 win against Brentwood School, Conn said his freshman are trying to step up this year.
“Anytime you can beat a team with freshmen on you’re team you’re doing really well,” Conn said. “It’s really hard to have freshmen who know what they’re doing at the varsity level.”
“I’ve thrown them in there, but they’re deserving of it.”
Saugus also has talented returners. Conn is excited Elias and Diaz, the team’s captains, are back.
They are two of the team’s captains. Both said early in the season the team needs to work on not forcing passes because it leads to turnovers.
“This is a new team, so they’re not used to the pressure,” Elias said.
Conn says he sees a bright future in this year’s crop of freshman. Diaz and Elias said Conn expects a lot from them, but they trust him and see what’s being built at Saugus.
“He just pushes us a lot,” Elias said. “He thinks we have so much potential and tries to make us better.”