If there’s one thing that all Nanaimo’s high schools have in common, it’s basketball.
All six of the city’s public secondary schools take to the court during the winter and fill their gymnasiums with fast breaks, lay-ups, three pointers and slam dunks.
The Dover Bay Dolphins, Nanaimo District Islanders, Wellington Wildcats, Cedar Spartans, Woodlands Eagles and Barsby Blazers will all have both a senior boys’ and senior girls’ entry.
The News Bulletin caught up with coaches to try to get a handle on what hardcourt happenings fans can expect in 2013-14:
DOVER BAY BOYS
Nanaimo’s north end high school has a strong basketball tradition and a deep pool of talent from which to draw.
Greg Gillies, the team’s coach, said he has several guys capable of starting any given game.
“The next day it could be a different lineup, because one guy played well,” he said. “So no real set starters, just whoever’s playing well and showing up and playing hard.”
Grade 12 veteran Wes Richardson will be one of the leaders, and especially likes to pull up and shoot from outside the three-point line.
Christian Wigmore will be another top scorer for the Dolphins and Taylor Davies will be counted on inside. Brothers Gary and Jordan Gladstone are two newcomers to the team who will contribute right away. Gillies said it’s an athletic group that will be pretty tough defensively.
“A lot of ball pressure, rebounding, working on the running and getting easy looks in transition,” he said.
The coach sees plenty of potential. He’d like to see Dover compete for one of the Island’s provincial berths.
Dover is Nanaimo’s only school to fit into the new AAAA division and the team will begin league play in the new year.
“It’s a totally new team, a new year. We’ve just got to work hard and hopefully everything will fall into place,” Gillies said.
DOVER BAY GIRLS
Dover’s girls may look different this year, but they should remain a contender in their division.
The senior AAA girls’ squad has a new look for 2013-14, with new coaches and an overhauled roster. Lisa Salewski and Jamie Bassett take over as co-coaches, and they’re encouraged by the group they get to work with.
“It’s a good blend of girls,” said Salewski, adding that they still need to jell.
“The rest of the things won’t click if they don’t know each other. They need to bond,” said Bassett.
Emily Shires returns from a year playing soccer in the U.S. to again lead the Dolphins. Emily Grey and Mikayla Herring provide a strong post presence, Danielle Frinton is an adept ball handler and Lindsay Hiemstra and Francesca Maestrello are key returnees.
“They have a lot of potential; they’re versatile,” Bassett said.
Nanaimo District Secondary School’s senior AAA boys are winning games, and they’re still getting better at basketball.
The Islanders have a deep but young group that is working to round out its game.
“For us, it’s about getting better,” said Jacob Thom, the team’s new coach.
The Islanders are led by star Tyus Barfoot, a Team B.C. player. Guard Malik Besseghieur will provide secondary scoring, Matt Wicklund and Garrett Goodall are two of the key forwards and Grade 10 Callum Gemma will step right in and contribute.
“Right now I’m just trying to put guys in position to score and I’m trying to make guys comfortable in the offence,” Thom said.
The defence can improve, he said, if the players can get used to talking out on the court.
“Also trusting where our teammates are going to be…” Thom said. “You just have to build trust and communication.”
The Nanaimo District Islanders think they’ve got a good team, inside and out.
The senior AA girls’ team has some players who will make their presence felt in the paint, and also some who will be able to knock down shots from downtown.
Early in the season, returning coach Mike Lundine is really just trying to get his players re-accustomed to the basketball court.
“We do have a fairly simple game plan, which is just to move the ball, shoot the ball as much as we can right now, get used to the basketball, get their timing, get their feet under them, those kinds of things.”
Natasha Jensen will be looked to for scoring inside, complemented by other forwards Danya Nieman and Tkia King. Maddy Dawson will be looked to for scoring from outside and Rachel Baird and Amelia Kazanowski can also hit outside shots.
“It’s going to take us some time to jell; it’s going to take us some time to figure out how to work together,” said Lundine. “They need to communicate; they always need to be aware of where the gaps are on the floor and then fill those gaps as quickly as possible.”
To be in the mix, the Cedar Spartans know they need to mix things up.
The Spartans senior AA boys want to fast break and push the pace as much as possible on offence, and try to take a breather by slowing down the opposition at the other end.
Implementing the system is new coach Gord Cawthorne, who has a core of returning vets complemented by some new additions.
Forward Josh Seward and swingman Ben Cawthorne are good at working a two-man game to create offence and Braxton Clark is a primary ball handler who can find his teammates or slash to the net himself. Raury Lancaster and Edward Sackey are some of the other contributors.
The coach said the team has a lot of positives in place and just needs to build on them. He’d like his players to round out their defensive game and do a better job of capitalizing on their chances the other end of the floor.
“We still have to work on just a little bit of finish inside,” Gord Cawthorne said. “It’s just concentration. The mechanics are there, the ability’s there, the strategy’s there, it’s just they’ve got to finish.”
For all Cedar Secondary School’s sports teams, it’s the last year before the high school closes. The basketball teams may or may not make history, but at least they can make some memories.
Daryl Rodgers, coach of the Spartans senior AA girls, said he’s told his players to just have fun and enjoy their last year at Cedar. The team will participate in a tournament in Calgary in February and proudly sport the black and gold.
The Spartans have posted some good results in league play early this season. Rodgers said the team can still work on its defensive positioning and at the other end of the court, on its ball movement.
Stefanie Talboys is the team’s top player and the most basketball-committed of the bunch. Marika Grubac, Shelby Dorman-Banks, Hailey Bradley and Kelsey Hutt are other key players.
“We’ve got people that can shoot from all over the floor so we’ve just got to keep hitting our shots,” the coach said.
The team should improve as it gets used to basketball fundamentals again as the high school sports seasons change.
“A lot of their favourite sports is volleyball and they’re playing basketball on the side,” Rodgers said. “So I’m not going to push them too too hard. Just have fun, enjoy your last year and at the same time, play hard and the more success you have, the more fun you’ll have.”
The Wellington Wildcats senior AAA boys might be able to surprise some opponents this season. The ’Cats have a short bench but it’s filled with basketball talent.
Glenn Johnson, the team’s longtime coach, said the Wildcats will be fine competing with nine players so long as they can stay healthy.
“We’re definitely going to have to be in shape and we’re going to have to rely on a lot of minutes from our starters, especially early in the season,” he said.
Wellington will be led by Tyler Radelja, who the coach said is one of the better basketball players on the Island. Point guard Malcolm Rush also brings a good all-around game and Dylan Dorsey, a big Grade 12, will be an important guy in the middle. Guard Nick Roshuk is a solid shooter and energy player.
Wellington Secondary School’s senior boys were one of only two Nanaimo teams to reach provincials last winter – the Wellington senior girls were the other – but now the boys are moving up one division so the task gets tougher.
“We’re playing hard right now,” Johnson said. “We’re not executing our offence this early on but the kids are working hard and we’ll get better as the season goes on.”
Wellington Secondary School’s senior AA girls were the city’s only senior basketball team to earn a medal last year and it’s possible they could vie for another one a year later.
Even though six players graduated from last year’s team, nine have moved up, adding depth and talent.
“Definitely we have the potential,” said Bill Fraser, co-coach of the Wildcats. “We just have to get to there without skipping all these steps they seem to be wanting to skip.”
He said the effort is still a bit inconsistent, but the ’Cats are good enough to get by on skill alone and nearly upset the province’s top team in tournament play already this fall.
Post player Victoria Brown is Wellington’s star player and not even the best teams will be able to shut her down. Point guard Ally Keir and forward Kaitlyn Franklin are other key returnees and Brooke Dendl and Jessica Jobaggy are also back from last season.
Fraser said in addition to the team’s strong inside game, the offence also has potential to be fast paced, with fast breaks and running and gunning. On defence, the girls will keep working on boxing out and rebounding and playing with heart.
Fraser said even if the group isn’t exactly where the coaches would like at this stage of December, it’s March that really matters.
“Just because last year we did really well doesn’t mean anyone is going to give us a trip to provincials or a medal again this year,” he said. “You’ve got to go get it.”
Woodlands Secondary School’s senior AA boys have a rebuilt core of the team, and it makes them bit of an unknown quantity.
“There’s people doubting them from all over the place,” said Franjo Crnkovic, who returns as coach. “I think that gives them fire and I think they would say they welcome with open arms all the doubt.”
This year’s Eagles will need to do things differently, as they won’t be able to rely on one star player for the bulk of the scoring.
“I try to tell my guys, you’re trying to build your own identity, not the past year and they’re starting to do that,” Crnkovic said.
Zack Williams is a key returnee who will be expected to be a force at both ends of the court. Nathan Perry, a Grade 12 newcomer, will also provide scoring and rebounding. Guard Jordan Cox and Grade 12 leader Jakob Brown are other contributors.
“They’re all right on the same page…” said the coach. “They’re playing smart and our big motto is just getting better every day and that’s what we’re doing.”
The Woodlands Eagles senior AA girls haven’t developed winning ways yet this fall, but it can happen if they can click.
“We have a few returning players that we’re really happy with [and] we have several new players learning our system, so we’re happy with that,” said Carl Macdonald, the team’s longtime coach.
The Eagles have potential to bring both a post presence and effective outside shooting this season.
“They know what their roles are and they’re enthusiastic about playing those positions,” the coach said.
Point guard Valeen Jules will be key to the team’s fortunes. Megan Dodds is strong inside, Megan Schelter drives the lane, Tia Malenica plays with pace and Kylee Sam and Dawn Frank can hit outside shots.
Macdonald said the players are communicating well on defence and just need to bear down at that end of the court.
“In our opinion – and our kids buy into it – defence is all about desire,” he said.
A lot of them are football champions, and maybe now they can become basketball contenders.
John Barsby Secondary School’s senior AA boys will bring plenty of athleticism to the court this season.
“They’ve just got to work on basketball skills and basketball fundamentals instead of football stuff. But that will come,” said Colin Boyce, the team’s new coach.
Last year’s Blazers team folded before the season was done, but this year the roster is deeper and guys seem to want to play basketball.
Chris DeGoutiere is the team’s primary scorer and Brian Peck brings a two-way game. Kyle Vollet, Shawn Arabsky and Tyler Hill are some other key players.
Boyce said it’s a coachable group and credited Barsby’s football coaches.
“Once I get them, they listen, they follow instructions really well,” he said. “And they’re winners and they want to win and that’s always a good thing.”
The Barsby Blazers girls are coached this year by Scott Robertson and Joel Smith.
Guard Carlie Malinski is one of the team’s top shooters, Nicole Mowat should score a lot of points in the post and Kaitlin Ovcharov is an effective two-way presence. Point guard Deonya Calori and forward Mikayla Amos are other key players.
The coaches of Barsby’s senior girls’ team could not be reached for comment.