By Kim Staudinger
When Box Elder basketball players Kristie Pullin and Tami Infante learned they had been named to the District 9C All-Conference team, it was the perfect way to cap off a very successful season.
For Pullin, it was a great 18th birthday present. For Infante, it marked the accomplishment of a yearlong goal, dating back to last season when she was named to the second team All-Conference.
"Tami was disappointed getting named to the second team last year," Box Elder head coach Shiloh Schwab-Hannum said. "The disappointment just made her work harder."
While both Pullin and Infante were elated with being named to the All-Conference team, their excitement peaked when they found out their coach was named Coach of the Year.
"I've been telling her she would be Coach of the Year since last year," Infante, a junior, said. "I like the way she coaches compared to everyone else."
Pullin, a senior, echoed her teammate's sentiments: "She brought an average team up to a very competitive team. No one expected us to do much, but she believed in us."
The award, the first in Schwab's two years as head coach of the Bears, came as a very special honor.
"The other coaches vote on it," she said. "The other coaches see how you work with your players and with your team. It's the ultimate judgment of your peers."
But as Schwab mentioned, you can't have a successful program without devoted athletes.
"It's fun coaching them," she said, referring to Pullin and Infante. "If I tell Tami to rebound, she will jump higher than all the post players to get the rebound.
"Since they are athletic and very good, I do expect a lot of them. They have to be at a high level at all times. They can't have any bad days. A good game to somebody else could be a bad or average game for Kristie or Tami."
Getting a gleam in her eye, Schwab added, "They did a great job. They would have to make a coach look good."
While Pullin and Infante are naturally highly athletic, playing for the usually quiet Coach Schwab is not an easy task.
"There are times when it is really hard. She expects you to dig down deep and bring the best game you can," Pullin said. "But there are other times when you're just glad to be a part of her team and glad she's your coach."
Infante, who has now played for Schwab for three years, agrees with Pullin, saying, "It takes a lot of work."
Being extremely successful athletes often can be the start of a disastrous spell that causes players to get carried away with the thought that they are better than everyone else. But Coach Schwab, who notes that Pullin and Infante "could be flamboyant and show off," does not allow her players to have that kind of attitude.
"She keeps us humble," Infante said. "We have to run for making behind-the-back passes in practice."
Although Schwab demands a lot from her players, a special relationship has grown between them that not many coaches can say they have with their players.
For example, after their last practice, Infante carried Coach Schwab into the locker room and threw her into the shower. Even after losing last weekend's divisional consolation game with Big Sandy, the girls had one final joke up their sleeve to play on their unsuspecting coach. After the game, the team went to 4B's to eat. As the team was leaving the restaurant, the girls picked up Coach Schwab and threw her into the bus' luggage compartment.
But perhaps the joke that will be best remembered happened just days before the district tournament. Knowing that athletes who get in-school suspension cannot play in the upcoming weekend's games, Pullin and Infante got a teacher to write a fake ISS slip to give to Schwab. The girls took the slip to Schwab's first-grade classroom.
"I was really mad," Schwab said. "I thought, There goes our chance at districts.'"
The girls decided to let their coach fume for a while before coming down a couple of class periods later to tell her it was all in fun.
"They are always joking around," Schwab said. "They are comfortable enough that they know the time and the place to joke around."
Taking advantage of one last chance to poke fun at their coach, both Pullin and Infante in an interview earlier this week mentioned an incident that happened before the Chester game at last weekend's divisional tournament. Schwab, who they also said often loses her keys, forgot Pullin's and Chassidy Parisian's shorts to go along with their dark jerseys. All was resolved shortly before the game and the team wore its lighter home uniforms.
A special relationship has also grown between Infante and Pullin, who are not just friends on the court, but off the court as well.
"I've told Tami that I look up to her at times," Pullin said. "She's not afraid to drive the lane and split up three people. I know for some reason without even looking where she is on the court."
Part of what many area coaches say is one of the most powerful 1-2 guard combinations in the state, Infante knows playing with someone like Pullin is something very special.
"It's awesome. I just go around the court and get the ball. I do have to worry about making the points, though, so she can get the assists," she said, laughing.
While playing with Pullin is awesome, playing without her, as Infante will have to do next year, will be tough.
"I have to bring the ball down the court. It's scary," Infante said. "I have to pick up where she left off."
Some athletes with the talent of Pullin or Infante wouldn't stay at a small Class C school like Box Elder and would move to a larger school to gain recognition. But Pullin and Infante like playing for the smaller school.
"Everyone knows you if you play for a school like Box Elder," Infante said. "You get a lot of recognition."
Pullin took a different approach at to why she likes playing at Box Elder.
"If we were in a big AA school, your teammates would just be teammates and nothing else. You probably wouldn't even see them outside of practice."
Pullin also mentioned that playing on the Hi-Line has meant more to her than she could have expected.
"Just playing on the Hi-Line is special. People come up and talk to you that you don't even know," she said. "When I came out (of the Chester game), to see everyone standing was cool. I didn't expect it."
Being successful basketball players isn't the only thing that Pullin and Infante have going for them. Pullin is a 4.0 student and Infante carries a 3.9 grade point average. Infante's only B came in math.
Pullin also is student body president, senior class president, a member of the upper band, where she plays the drums, and is involved in volleyball and track.
"I have no life outside of school," she laughed.
Infante also is in volleyball and track and a member of the pep band, where she plays the clarinet.
As senior class president, Pullin is taking charge of arranging a senior class trip to Seattle. She said she hopes every member of the senior class will be making the trip. The senior class is hoping to make a side trip to Oregon to watch the "Phantom of the Opera" in correlation with their advanced-placement English class.
Both Pullin and Infante have been playing basketball since elementary school. Pullin recalls playing in the "tiny tot league" as a child, always dreaming of playing varsity ball. Infante, who has been playing since second grade, remembers her struggles with trying to make the elementary school team.
"I played with all the guys," she said. "In third grade I wanted to play on the elementary team, but the coach said I had to wait a year. So I went back the next year and he said the same thing. Finally the next year I got on the team. It took me a couple of years to get on the team."
While the life of a student-athlete is never an easy one, the family support both girls have received has helped carry them through the difficult times.
Pullin said her mom wants her to pursue basketball but not if it won't make her happy. Pullin, who turned 18 on Tuesday, read aloud the message in a birthday card she got from her mom, perhaps giving insight about where her good humor comes from.
"You're of legal age now," she read. "So you can start making your own decisions now instead of me."
Infante also has had the support of her mom, making the busy student-athlete life easier to deal with.
"My mom has been very inspirational to me," she said.