Working as an assistant coach on the girls basketball team for the last few years under coach Kevin Meines, Cherokee Ainslie experienced first-hand the dedication and hard work it takes to build a successful program.
A Bellarmine Prep graduate herself whose father is also the defensive line coach for the football team, Ainslie was also emotionally tied to the school. But when it came time for the 29-year-old to forge her own way in her coaching career, the new Puyallup High coach didn’t hesitate to make a change.
“It was a big step,” Ainslie said of going to Puyallup. “But it was a step I was ready for.”
Ainslie takes over a young Puyallup team that finished 8-8 in the SPSL South last year and failed to qualify for the district tournament. She’s now building a foundation for a squad built on teamwork and defense.
“We’re focusing more on pressing and getting other teams frustrated by playing aggressive and smart,” she said. “(The girls) have responded well.”
With a young starting five (two sophomores and three juniors) and a roster that counts just two seniors, the athletic Vikings have responded to the change in team philosophy, jumping out to a 4-0 mark to start the season.
“It’s not necessarily the record I’m most excited about,” Ainslie said. “I love to see the enthusiasm out there. They’re having fun playing the game.”
Helping lead that charge is sophomore guard Addi Picha (ex-coach Dan Picha’s niece), who’s averaging 12 points per game.
“She’s a competitor,” Ainslie said of Picha. “She puts her all into it.”
But despite the strong start, Ainslie said her young group still has plenty of work ahead as her team is still learning how to execute the offense in the half-court and has yet to face the top-tier teams in the SPSL South.
“It’s way too early to be content,” the coach said.
Ainslie’s constant presence around the school campus while assistant coaching volleyball and fastpitch has helped her players get used to her fiery and competitive personality, and that has helped with the transition to a new era — and coaching style — of girls basketball.
“You can tell they’re hungry (to win),” she said.