High school basketball teams prepare for a run at Hoopla

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Carlton senior girl’s coach Jennifer Ferguson explains how she wants her team to set up during a practise drill.

Dave Leaderhouse

Herald Staff

The sports schedule for high school sports teams is very cyclic as the start of the year has football and soccer dominating the agenda and then the focus switches to volleyball.

Just before Christmas the hardwood becomes the centre of attention as basketball teams get their feet wet, but after the holiday season is when the action really gets exciting.

The local senior boy’s and girl’s basketball teams are entered in a tournament almost every weekend in January and February as they prepare for the playoffs in early March.

First there are the conference playoffs in every division with the top clubs from that event moving on to the regional qualifier. The ultimate goal is to get to Hoopla, the provincial tournament, and with none of the local clubs advancing that far last season, there is the renewed hope that this could be the year.

Following is a look at each of the four local high school teams – their make-up, strengths, weaknesses and expectations. The synopsis is in no particular order.

                                                Carlton senior boys

With only two Grade 12 players on the team last year that lost at regionals to Regina O’Neill, the Crusaders are a more experienced team this time around with five seniors (Grade 12), two juniors (Grade 11) and three sophomores (Grade 10).

“We’re certainly getting better,” notes head coach Lindsay Strachan who’s club lost in the gold-medal game to cross-town rival St. Mary at an event in Meadow Lake and captured the consolation title in Moose Jaw since returning from the break. “Our younger guys are getting some playing time, but we are looking for more consistency.”

Strachan says while the team has tightened up defensively, they have to generate more offense from the perimeter. That will come with practise and plenty more tournament action as the Crusaders have four more events to attend before the conference playoffs in Warman in early March.

With the team on a break right now for exam week, they get back to work in early February with a trip to Yorkton and then the annual St. Mary invitational tournament.

Carlton should claim one of the two conference berths for regionals and once there, it is a toss-up – literally. Regional playoffs are the second weekend in March at a yet-to-be-determined location with the winner of that event moving on to Hoopla in Saskatoon at the end of March.

                                                St. Mary senior girls

An exceptionally young Marauder team is hoping to gain valuable experience this year and in the process improve on its result from last year when they lost in the regional qualifier to Moose Jaw Peacock.

“I’ve told the girls all year let’s get into the regional final and play a really good game – play the underdog,” says St. Mary head coach Dwayne Gareau. “When we get to regionals if we are playing our best basketball, maybe we can come up with a win.”

The Marauders have five seniors on their team, but they also have three sophomores and five freshmen. Gareau says there is a really good group of Grade 9 players coming up so the future is looking very promising for the team.

As for the present, St. Mary has run into stiff competition from Carlton as the Crusaders prevailed in a fifth-place game at a tournament in Moose Jaw and then topped the Marauders in a bronze-medal match in North Battleford in recent tournament action.

Both St. Mary and Carlton will be among six teams at the conference playdowns in early March looking to be one of four clubs to advance to the regional event the following weekend.

Getting to regionals is something Gareau feels should happen, but he says there is a lot of work to do from now until then.

“Part of our problem is handling pressure,” says Gareau. “We play defence very well, but we struggle to score – we can’t get to our sets.”

The Marauders will play some exhibition games after the exam break with their next tournament action scheduled for Meath Park in early February.

                                                Carlton senior girls

There is no one “go-to” player on the Crusaders says head coach Jennifer Ferguson. Depth is where their strength is.

“We have a very deep bench,” explains Ferguson using a recent trip to Moose Jaw as an example where every player got in on the scoring in three of the four games the team played. “Everybody contributes in our games for us to win.”

“They are hard workers and the improvement from November until now is immense,” adds Ferguson.

Carlton’s team consists of four Grade 12s, two Grade 11s, four Grade 10s and a pair of Grade 9s, so in relative terms, they are quite young.

Having failed to make regionals last year, Ferguson says that isn’t even a possibility this year.

“We fully anticipate being one of those (four teams) advancing from the North East conference,” says Ferguson.

The Crusaders are strong defensively, but where they have to do some work, says Ferguson, is get more confidence and believe in themselves.

Carlton returns to action after exam week with a trip to Warman. Several more events are planned in February before the playoffs start and the Crusaders plan to be playing well into March.

                                                St. Mary senior boys

Of all the local teams, the St. Mary senior boys have the pedigree and early results to suggest that there could be a very successful playoff run in the future.

After all, the Marauders have already won four tournaments this year – Carlton, Birch Hills, Meadow Lake and North Battleford – and they have also captured the consolation final at an event held at Saskatoon’s Centennial Collegiate.

Armed with three players that competed at the Saskatchewan Summer Games last year – Brandon Bonneau, Connor Murray and Evan Parchomchuk – and two more that were on the provincial squad – Brian Tolentino and Aaron Halyk – the Marauders are poised to go deep in the playoffs.

That is until you talk to head coach Dale Regel.

“I had high expectations last year, but injuries hurt us,” says Regel in reference to his team losing to Meadow Lake at the regional qualifier a year ago. “I just want us to go out and have fun. I have no expectations this year.”

The Marauders have eight seniors on their team this year to go with four juniors and three freshmen. Experience is not an issue. What Regel says is overwhelming is the passion the players have for the game.

“Ten of these kids are here at 7 a.m. every day either shooting baskets or lifting weights,” says Regel. “They come out at noon and shoot – they are very committed. We have really good kids and they are a pleasure to coach.”

Regel adds that the team has plenty of height and their speed can be overpowering at times. With all of the practise, he says shooting is another strength.

The Marauders will get back to work after the exam break the first week of February with a trip to Yorkton and the following weekend they will host their own invitational tournament. A couple of more tune-up events are planned before heading to Warman in early March for the conference playdowns.

An appearance at Hoopla is definitely a possibility as long as they stay healthy.

 

Geographic location: Meadow Lake, Moose Jaw, Warman Yorkton Saskatoon North Battleford Meath Park North East Birch Hills Saskatchewan

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