ARLEE — The Arlee boys basketball team has struggled to string together wins over the past couple years, but this season the Warriors been one of the best in Class B all across Montana.
"This year we were like it’s our year, we've waited all three years, we've been getting our butts beat all three years," said senior Benjamin Old Person-Harlow.
"We're like our senior year, let's just take over. Let's just do our thing. I mean, we're hungry, we just want to win. That's pretty much it. That's it. Just focus on winning the next game, game by game."
After only one winning record the past three years, Old Person-Harlow knows exactly what has led to Arlee's winning ways this season.
"Definitely our coaching staff and my teammates. You know, we're finally playing together as a team," said Old Person-Harlow. "We struggled in the last four years, and this year we really stick together. We really want that state championship appearance."
With the Warriors' only two losses this year coming to Missoula Loyola, the lone unbeaten Class B team, the players have seen the community rally around them.
"Our community is next level. We have a bunch of backup around us," said fellow senior Dallas Swab. "We know we can go to our community and just have fun."
And a small part of that community is ingrained in the team, with almost all of the players having been on the court together for most of their lives.
"We've been playing ball since I was 5 years old," said Swab. "You know, we really just grew up together. We have a whole bunch of confidence and chemistry."
That confidence and chemistry has been on full display for first-year head coach Jason Maki.
"I think they won me over pretty quickly, just with their team attitude," said Maki. "They just really believe in each other, love each other and, you know, they, just like the championship teams, they talk about brotherhood ... so it's pretty cool."
After 25 years of coaching at bigger schools in Oregon, Maki spent the last three seasons as the head boys basketball coach at Missoula Sentinel High School before coming to Arlee, and he's noticed something different with the smalltown school and their culture.
"Every day in practice it’s been fun. They've just got great demeanors and they're just great kids," said Maki.
"They smile, they say hi, you know, teenagers can be moody, and we really haven't had a bad day, right? I mean, you walk into the gym and I feel better. And so that's been the coolest part, is just getting to know how great of young men that they are."