The 2022-23 season will mark Kendall Peace’s 20th as the head coach of the Poly girls’ basketball team. Peace, a 1996 graduate of Poly, won her 350th game as the Engineers’ coach this past December and has a career mark of 364-89. Poly won the MPSSAA Class 3A state championship in March, marking Peace’s first state title with the Engineers. She has been to an MPSSAA Final Four nine other times.

Former Poly players Britni Lonesome (Class of 2006), Teira Pendleton (2014) and Khepera Stokes (2016) spoke with PressBox’s Luke Jackson about what makes Peace so successful. Lonesome played college basketball at Johns Hopkins, Pendleton at Lincoln and Stokes at UAlbany. Stokes is now the girls’ junior varsity coach at Poly, while Lonesome and Pendleton assist Peace.

PressBox: What makes Peace so special? Why has she been so successful at Poly?

Teira Pendleton: To me, personally, I think the older I’ve gotten I’ve realized looking back in hindsight that with Coach Peace it’s not even just an on-the-court type of thing. It’s the off the court. Just the fact that having a coach that absolutely cares about how you act on the court, not just how you perform but your character, and even still about what will happen when the ball stops bouncing or getting you to the next level. … I really just think it’s her demeanor of caring about us as women and making sure that we reach our full potential on and off the court, which doesn’t really happen with many coaches. A lot of them are more so worried about performance, but with her it’s never been like that. I can genuinely say I appreciate it.

Khepera Stokes: From experience as a player and as a first-year coach this past year, Coach Peace’s ability to tie in her relationships with her players, to build relationships with her players, to put in the effort to make sure the players know that she genuinely cares for them outside of basketball. She makes sure academics are up there as a mother, not even as a teacher since she’s also a teacher. Her ability to keep that relationship bond through her coaching just makes her players become a lot more passionate about basketball and makes it more fun and makes it more comfortable and more family-oriented.

PressBox: How has Peace stood the test of time throughout her career?

Britni Lonesome: When you’re doing something you love, you can have longevity in it. Just the passion she has for the game, for developing kids — we start at 14 as freshmen and then you leave there technically an adult at 18. She just knows how to nurture you through those times. I was on her first team at Poly, so we’ve grown up together. She was like 23, 24 when she started coaching us, which is young. We’ve all grown together. How she coaches now is a little bit different than it was before, as it should be. She puts the work in, the extra work, breaking down film, making sure that people have the things that they need to stretch properly [at home and on the road] … just a lot of little things that she does now that has allowed her to really grow herself and also grow the program over the years.

Teira Pendleton: I just started coming back and helping coaching this year, so I think she’s evolved in a positive way. I always tease her about how I think she’s gotten softer on the new generation, but I think it’s for a good reason. She does that to be able to make sure that the players are able to confide in her, not just look at her as someone who’s just trying to coach them but also trying to be someone who they can look up to, not just on the court but also off the court. I feel like evolving to cater to a lot of us, especially with my generation being so much different than it was 10 to 20 years ago.

PressBox: How did you create such a unique relationship with Peace?

Britni Lonesome: I was a freshman on varsity, so she really developed me over the full four years there. We had always just stayed in contact and she’s just really special to me because she’s one of the people that just always saw my potential and always saw how great I could be, not just on the court but really off the court as well. We just maintained contact. I always wanted to always be a part of this program that she’s built. … Even this past state championship that we won, that was a full-circle moment for me because we started building this program from the very beginning. I was there. To see it evolve and actually win a championship, it was a beautiful full-circle moment that I’m really grateful for.

Khepera Stokes: Going back to relationship building, how personable she is. Even through tough moments on the court, you can feel that genuine care and her wanting her teams to be successful. She puts a lot of people first all the time, which can be a challenge or it can be just such a beautiful thing as it’s been for her. I just always attach to people like that because you don’t come around a lot of people like that. I’ve been through a lot of coaches in my life and I can say that this is the one coach that I have stayed connected with the longest through a lot of things.

PressBox: Is there a story involving you and Peace that resonates to this day?

Teira Pendleton: We had a game where we were playing Digital Harbor. This is actually when I was a player. They had about three or four high D-I players. We came out in the first half nervous, scared, playing under our potential, and it got to the point where we were down like 10 to 15 points in the first half. They were jawing at us. Basically, we looked rattled. Halftime came, she gave her normal speech, but the third quarter we started to come back and she kind of [stared at us] in our eyes and was like, “Is this all you guys have? Is this it? Can you give more? Is it just because of their potential that you guys are nervous?” Kind of basically making us think about what exactly was the reason that we’re here.

Khepera Stokes: At my career at Poly, we always made it [deep in the state tournament] but we always came up short. We were always the last two people to stay in the locker room and just think about stuff from the game or some sort of things we could have done. I miss that now. This is like a Chapter Two for me because now I’m on the other side and more so helping her. At first, I was kind of receiving the comfort and the coaching side of, “It’s OK, we’ll try again next year, we’ll keep working.” And now it’s just like a Chapter Two to it. It’s a real beautiful story even though it’s made up of just so many different experiences.

PressBox: How has Peace helped you in life outside of sports?

Britni Lonesome: When I joined this team as a freshman, I remember her telling me, “Don’t get complacent.” I don’t think I fully understood it as a kid. I understood it better as an adult. She always pushed us to our greatest point. She was the one that saw a lot in me that I didn’t see at the time. It took me a lot of years to kind of understand.

Teira Pendleton: I think a lot of things that Coach Peace taught were character — body language, how to talk to people, how to talk to adults, how to talk to coaches, how you should perform in big moments and what those moments mean. You think during those moments that it only matters in basketball. I’m a physician’s assistant now. Basketball has taught me so much, and she’s a crucial piece in just how I carry myself as a woman, especially as an African American woman, in a professional state. No matter what has come at her, no matter what anyone has said to her, she’s always been herself.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Poly

Issue 275: June/July 2022

PressBox

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