Tipoff 2014-15: High hopes for high school hoops

The Nanaimo News Bulletin previews the area's 11 high school senior basketball teams.

Nanaimo District Islanders post player Callum Gemma scores a layup during practice Monday night at the Nanaimo District Secondary School gym.



High school basketball season has a certain sound to it.

At this time of year, the gymnasiums are just starting to echo with the squeak of hightops on the hardcourt and the rhythm of few bouncing basketballs.

By season’s end, if all goes well, those echos will become raucous reverberations as players thunder up and down the court, rock the rim, beat the buzzer, raise the roof.

Nanaimo’s high school hoops fans can look forward to all the sounds – and sights – of a new season as teams tip off this month.

There are fewer local teams taking to the court this season than in years past. Woodlands Secondary School, fresh from an appearance at volleyball provincials, was unable to get a senior girls’ basketball team together. The closure of Cedar Community Secondary School means no more Spartans basketball, but since the Ladysmith 49ers senior boys’ and senior girls’ teams mostly consist of Cedar players, the 49ers have been included in the Bulletin’s high school basketball preview for the first time.

Nanaimo District Secondary School, Dover Bay, Wellington and John Barsby all have senior boys’ and senior girls’ teams.

Here’s a look at the 11 local high school basketball teams:

NDSS ISLANDERS BOYS

The Nanaimo District Islanders entered the fall with the highest provincial ranking of any local team, eighth in senior AAA.

“I don’t know if there’s higher expectations. It might be we’re noticed a little more by people on the mainland,” said Tyus Barfoot, the Islanders’ star player.

There are expectations, said assistant coach Tyler Olsen, “but we’re not too worried about it. All that matters is what happens in March, [and] first we’ve got to make it there.”

The Islanders understand there will be a process toward playing to their potential. Even though the senior AAA league doesn’t tip off until the new year, the Islanders have been busy with exhibition games and have challenged themselves against tough competition.

“These guys definitely want to get better. The guys that are here right now all love basketball, I think,” Olsen said. “They’re slowly starting to work harder and harder and learning what it is to have a good work ethic.”

Barfoot said the Islanders have been having good practices and have been working hard and thinks it will start to pay off in games.

To win, he said, “we’re going to have to roll together and we’re going to have to play really well as a team.”

The Islanders feature three Basketball B.C. high-performance program players, including Barfoot, centre Callum Gemma, and Max Reed, who transferred to ND from Dover Bay. Other key returnees include forward Garrett Goodall and guard Cole McGarvey. Jacob Thom is the team’s head coach.

Olsen said the offence is coming along slowly, but with so many offensively talented players on the court, “once we get it it’s going to be really nice.” There is work to do defensively, too, he said, particularly with rebounding. These things will come, the assistant coach said.

“We’re looking more long-term…” he said. “And I think when that time comes around, we’ll be ready and very good.”

The Islanders play the Alberni Armada today (Dec. 18) at 2 p.m. at the NDSS gymnasium.

NDSS ISLANDERS GIRLS

The Nanaimo District Islanders senior AA girls have enough talent to win games this year, they just need to put it all together.

Coach Taylor Hendricks, new in town after moving from Alberta, likes the group of players she’ll be working with at NDSS.

“They have a really awesome skill base, they just need to work as a team,” she said.

Provincial team player Natasha Jensen, fellow forward Tkia King and point guard Rachel Baird are the three captains and primary scorers.

“They are definitely going to be our base for the whole team. They really pick the team up,” Hendricks said.

Megan Doumont is another reliable player who can play minutes at any position.

The Islanders are expected to get better as the year goes on and contend in the playoffs.

“I’m really hoping that they’re going to be able to pull it together for that,” the coach said. “They just need the mental [side] and the teamwork to get it together.”

The Isles host the Ladysmith 49ers Jan. 6 at 5 p.m. at the NDSS gym.

DOVER BAY DOLPHINS BOYS

The Dover Bay Dolphins have the player personnel to again be a basketball powerhouse, but they think they need to change up some things on the court.

Carson Williams, the team’s coach, said he’s asking his senior AAAA boys to play an all-new style in the 2014-15 season.

“I wanted to push the tempo a little bit,” Williams said. “I think we’ve got a bench that I can rotate a bit, so I wanted to change the tempo of our style so we can go a little quicker.”

It affects the game plan at both ends of the court. Not only will the team try to run and gun offensively, but it will also try to play the sort of defence that might lead to fast breaks.

“We have some sets we’re trying to run, but I want my guys to play loose on offence … to attack, basically,” said the coach. “And then defensively, just play an aggressive style that turns the tempo up a little bit.”

The Dolphins will be led this year by Grade 12 forward Christian Wigmore, who can score from anywhere. Quinn Mirau and Jordan Gladstone are provincial team players in the backcourt and Gary Gladstone, another guard, can also push the ball and score. Forwards Jeff Webb and Fraser Schmidt are other key contributors.

“The effort’s been really good and the focus has been really good,” Williams said. “The guys are learning a lot and they’re working really hard and it’s starting to come together. We just have to build on what we’ve got going.”

Dover begins league play in the new year and the team’s home opener isn’t until Jan. 20, when the Dolphins take on the Alberni Armada at 7 p.m. at the Dover Bay Secondary School gym.

DOVER BAY DOLPHINS GIRLS

The Dover Bay Dolphins, with a roster full of fresh faces, will experiment with their court chemistry.

This year’s senior AAA girls’ team has 11 Grade 11s and two Grade 12s, making for an interesting mix.

“For not really playing together as a team, as a core five, I think they have the foundation,” said Lisa Salewski, Dover’s coach. “It’s just how hard they work to continue to build on that.”

Post player Mikayla Herring will be a top scorer for the Dolphins, along with swing player Danielle Frinton, another returnee. Forward Rose Plensky plays hard and she and Nyree McGonigle will be two other scorers.

Salewski said the Dolphins girls have a lot of work to do offensively and need to learn to play together defensively and it all starts “with the intensity that they bring to the court.”

She said the players are coachable and give 100 per cent of what is asked from them, so she expects them to find their form as the season goes along.

“It’ll be interesting to see what they’re like at their last game,” the coach said.

Dover’s next home game isn’t until Jan. 8, when they host the Alberni Armada in a 5 p.m. tipoff.

WOODLANDS EAGLES BOYS

The Woodlands Eagles may be underdogs, but they don’t want to think that way.

“That’s what we’ve been trying to teach these guys, is always have high expectations,” said Franjo Crnkovic, coach of the senior AA boys’ team. “Because we don’t have a Wildcat or we don’t have a Dover logo on us, we still deserve credit in this town.”

The coach said his players are committed, but he wants the veterans to take more responsibility.

“The kids, they’re hard-working,” Crnkovic said. “If they commit to everything that we do, like every team, we’ll be OK.”

Forward Zack Mackay can score in the post or from outside, and swingman Griffin Douglas and point guard Jordan Cox will be two other key players at both ends of the court. Another Grade 12, Hunter Gackstatter, is team captain.

The league will be as competitive as ever this year, but the Eagles, who beat provincially ranked Barsby on Tuesday, want to rise above underdog status.

“It’s going to be a battle,” the coach said. “Every game’s going to count.”

The Eagles visit the Ladysmith 49ers tonight (Dec. 18) at 7 p.m.

WELLINGTON WILDCATS BOYS

The Wellington Wildcats senior AAA boys have an early leg up in high school hoops this season.

The ’Cats earned some local bragging rights by beating the Dover Bay Dolphins and Woodlands Eagles on back-to-back days this past weekend.

What’s more, Wellington – with only Grade 10s and 11s on the roster – is only bound to get better.

“We’re really young, but we’ve got some pretty skilled guys and they’re a good group of kids, so it’s been fun to work with them so far,” said Luke Letham, who takes over as head coach.

Post players Anton Kamke and Daniel Goodman will have a lot of points and rebounds this season, and point guard Hayden Jeffries is another strong two-way player.

“We don’t have one guy that’s going to go score a bunch of points, so basically it’s just working on the defensive end and turning that into points…” Letham said. “We’re going to have to rely on our defence and stopping teams.”

League play doesn’t start until the new year, but the Wildcats have been active in exhibition. With two tournament wins in a row now, the ’Cats will bring momentum into a busy new year.

“We’ve set goals and we want to be playing for an Island championship,” Letham said. “I think we can accomplish that, with what I’ve seen so far.”

The Wellington Wildcats’ first regular-season game is Jan. 6, when the NDSS Islanders visit the Wellington Secondary School gym for a 7 p.m. tipoff.

WELLINGTON WILDCATS GIRLS

The Wellington Wildcats, consistent contenders, will need to work for every win they get.

Wellington Secondary School’s senior AA girls’ basketball team has a very different roster this year that will try to keep up Welly’s winning ways. Eight newcomers join four veterans.

“We have the leadership from the four returning players and the new girls, they come in from a good [junior] program,” said Bill Fraser, co-coach of the Wildcats.

Provincial team player Olivia Mjaaland is Wellington’s primary scorer and Shaneeka Swift, Shania Sabbas and Amber John are other key contributors.

“Like every year here, we don’t rely on one person ever,” said Fraser. “So it’s trying to distribute the responsibilities and the pressure equally amongst them, so then we’re not that team you could just shut down one player and we’re done.”

Wellington is known as a basketball school and the Wildcats senior girls were the first team to hit the court this fall to practise. Their head start will help them in an improved league.

“I’d expect it to be close right to the end, very competitive,” Fraser said. “It’ll basically boil down to who’s clicking and who doesn’t have injuries.”

The Wildcats girls host the Barsby Blazers in league play Jan. 6 at 5 p.m. at the Wellington Secondary School gym.

BARSBY BLAZERS BOYS

Some of John Barsby Secondary School’s senior athletes will try to keep winning as they transition from the football field to the basketball court.

“A lot of these guys, they’re running off a big high from winning the B.C. football championships. They’ve just got to work hard and concentrate on basketball,” said Colin Boyce, one of the team’s coaches.

Football season delayed basketball season a bit, so the Blazers are in catch-up mode.

“It’s a little bit stressful, a lot of things to work on, but we’re doing it, day by day,” Boyce said. “We’re just getting everybody on the same page and getting to know each other, to play together.”

Barsby goes into basketball season provincially ranked in senior AA. They will be led offensively by guard Chris DeGoutiere, with forward North Rainey playing a physical two-way game and guard Michael Wyse providing pure shooting from outside. Cedric Mack, Brian Peck and Max Cummings, who comes over from Cedar Community Secondary School, will also contribute.

“Everyone has a job to do and with the new players, they’ve just got to find where they belong,” Boyce said.

The Blazers host the Kwalikum Kondors tonight (Dec. 18) at 7 p.m. at the John Barsby Secondary School gym.

BARSBY BLAZERS GIRLS

Barsby’s senior AA girls’ basketball team began as two separate groups, but they’ve shown a desire to become one team.

“It was a little bit difficult, because we have about four girls from Cedar … and they weren’t used to the other girls because they’re used to playing against each other,” said Carlie Malinski, one of Barsby’s coaches.

But they’re bonding and they’re working to build team chemistry.

“They’re awesome,” Malinski said. “We have practices at 6 a.m. and every one of them is there on time and ready to go.”

Hannah Stannard is the team’s top scorer, playing mostly shooting guard. Point guard Ryanne McLeod and post Kaela Amos are other key players. The coach said it’s a versatile lineup, with different girls able to handle the ball, drive to the basket or shoot.

“I try and push teamwork because I don’t really believe one person can do everything,” Malinski said. “There will be plays for each one of them, because each one of them has a great ability.”

The Blazers visit the Wellington Wildcats on Jan. 6 at 5 p.m. at the Wellington Secondary School gym.

LADYSMITH 49ERS BOYS

Randy Steel has coached Ladysmith 49ers basketball for a long time, but this year he’s seeing something completely new.

“It’s hard to bring two teams together. It’s actually really hard to do,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve ever tried this.”

Two-thirds of the roster this year are players who used to attend Cedar Community Secondary School.

“They had a system last year that they were running, and then we’re trying to run our system that we run at Ladysmith,” he said. “So it’s actually been a bit of a challenge, but the kids have been really good.”

Point guard Nick Hayton is the go-to guy and forward Kurt Olson and centre Raury Lancaster will be other impact players.

With a roster of all Grade 12s, a long-term build doesn’t make sense, Steel said. So the 49ers will keep things simple and rely on their basketball fundamentals, skills and smarts.

“It’ll be tough. We’ll have to come a long way,” Steel said.

The coach said the team will need quality practices to improve, and pointed out that attending practice is a considerable commute for the Cedar kids. Their commitment should be rewarded, though, with a fun season, he said.

“We’ll have some good, close games this year,” said Steel. “The league is strong, so it’s good for us because we get good, quality league games every time we come out.”

The Ladysmith 49ers host the Woodlands Eagles in senior AA league play tonight (Dec. 18) at 7 p.m. at the Ladysmith Secondary School gym.

LADYSMITH 49ERS GIRLS

A new group of girls has helped bring basketball back at Ladysmith Secondary School.

There was no senior girls’ team at the school last season, but thanks to a roster of mostly Cedar teens, the program has been revived. Daryl Rodgers, an LSS alumnus, is coach of the 49ers girls.

“I know it’s kind of died away in the last couple of years, but maybe we can revitalize the basketball program here again and make it like it used to be,” he said.

There is a junior girls’ program at the school, which bodes well for the future, but the present will be challenging. Since there was no team last year, some players on the senior team have little to no experience playing basketball.

The team will rely on Marika Grubac and Shelby Dorman-Banks at both ends of the court, as well as Kelsey Hutt, who works hard and hustles on defence. Darby Rae is another Grade 12 who will contribute.

“We’re just trying to develop and see where we can get…,” Rodgers said. “At the start of the season everybody expects to be rusty. It’s where you can get to by the end of the year.”

The 49ers visit the NDSS Islanders Jan. 6 at 5 p.m. at the Nanaimo District Secondary School gym.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com

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