Basketball is back and Nanaimo high school teams are ready to crowd the court.
The city’s five high schools feature eight senior teams this season. Dover Bay, Wellington and Nanaimo District have boys’ and girls’ teams, while Woodlands and John Barsby have boys’ squads.
Here’s the News Bulletin’s annual high school hoops preview:
DOVER BAY BOYS
The Dover Bay Dolphins senior AAAA boys made their case as an early-season favourite, placing second at the tough Welcome Back Tournament in Duncan last week.
Dover is still finding its b-ball legs. Practices weren’t full contact until last week because a handful of players were busy winning provincial bronze medals on the volleyball court.
“That athleticism and commitment has translated. They had a successful season there, and hopefully we can translate it over to here,” said Carson Williams, coach of the Dover senior boys’ basketball team. “The energy and focus has been good, they’re excited, they really want to get going.”
The Dolphins are a veteran group, with five returnees, all “heavy minute-getters” from a year ago, the coach said.
“The five guys who are returning have all been excellent leaders and are really doing a good job showing people how Dover Bay likes to practise and play.”
Sweet-shooting guard Ryan MacDonald will be an offensive leader for Dover, while forward Jeff Webb will provide scoring and rebounding in the paint. Guard Quinn Mirau and hard-working vet Miles Huynh are other guys who will be counted on.
Williams said he wants his team to play loose, push the basketball on offence and be difficult to play against on defence.
“That’s still kind of evolving as I see what we look like as we go,” he said.
Dover’s boys host the Barsby Blazers in an exhibition game tonight (Dec. 17) at 7 p.m. at the Dover Bay Secondary School gym.
DOVER BAY GIRLS
Dover’s senior girls are saying ‘aloha’ to basketball season.
The team is in Oahu, Hawaii, this week, and plays St. Francis there today (Dec. 17).
Rick Hart, coach of the Dover senior AAA girls, had been planning the trip for the team since last spring and said he was looking forward to it.
“It’s always good to play American teams. Usually they’re just a little more skilled all the way around and a little smarter and stuff,” he said. “So I think it will be a good experience for us to play some different teams.”
He coached Dover’s junior girls last year and after a strong season, they move up to form the core of the senior team.
There are two Grade 12 vets who are key players – post player Elise Angelucci and swing player Rose Plensky – and the newcomers include point guard Madeline Hart and shooting guard Sophia Fan.
The coach said he tries to keep things simple at this stage of the season, focusing on defence and rebounding, and taking care of the basketball and making good decisions in the offensive end.
“We’re just playing everybody and getting some experience, so it’s going pretty good, I think,” Rick Hart said. “We have a good, athletic crew and they’re really keen.”
Dover’s home opener is Jan. 7, when the Alberni Armada visit for a 5:30 p.m. tipoff.
NANAIMO DISTRICT BOYS
The Nanaimo District Islanders senior boys will just worry about the things they can control on the court right now.
Coach Jacob Thom was asked about the team’s top-10 provincial ranking, but said he didn’t want to talk about it, and that it was too early in the season to judge that sort of thing.
For now, the Islanders just want to practise and play, as they get in more game action than usual with an early start to the season.
“It means more games…” said Thom. “It’s going to be good for us in the long run.”
Players are moving the ball around pretty well for this time of the year, but can be more consistent in that area, the coach said. He would also like to see the Islanders get more aggressive with their rebounding.
The Islanders have had ample opportunity to play all their guys and are still figuring out which players are capable of playing big minutes and filling key roles.
The team is led by its Grade 12 captains – centre Callum Gemma will pose matchup problems for most teams and forward Max Reed goes hard to the hoop and contributes in all phases of the game. Another forward, Anders Cederberg, will provide secondary scoring, and contributors in the backcourt include Will Fridriksson and James Robinson.
“It’s going to be more of a team effort this year for us,” Thom said. “It doesn’t really matter who scores … it’s going to be by committee.”
The Islanders host the Mount Douglas Rams in exhibition action Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. at the Nanaimo District Secondary School gym.
NANAIMO DISTRICT GIRLS
The Nanaimo District Islanders senior girls can be competitive through their work ethic on the court.
The team is young and short on scoring depth, but will only improve over the course of a tough senior AA schedule.
“They’re excited and they’re really willing to work hard in practice,” said Jenna Carver, who will co-coach the team this season with Alix Stupich. “We have a lot of strong players and a lot of girls that are willing to show up and give their best effort, which is something that we ask for every day.”
Grade 12 post player Natasha Jensen is the leader and top scorer and will be counted on to “take control on the court,” said the coach.
Shooting guard Janessa Swan will be looked to for secondary scoring and swing player Jenna Falkenberg provides high energy and scoring. Other contributors include guards Taylor Olsen and Marina Andersen.
The coaches said it’s a versatile group, with players willing to take on different roles to help the team.
“We just need to learn to play together more, and I think that’s going to come over time,” Carver said. “We’re focused on getting better each day at practice and using each game as an opportunity to get better.”
The Islanders’ next home game is an exhibition against Abbotsford at 3:45 p.m. on Dec. 29.
Wellington’s senior AAA boys have been among the city’s busiest basketball teams this fall, with plenty of game action already under their belts.
“We’ve put a lot of time and effort in,” said Luke Letham, coach of the Wildcats. “The boys are finding out what’s working.”
They’re finding success, he said, when they are able to share the basketball and keep it moving around the court. That’s because the ’Cats have numerous capable contributors.
One of the leaders is point guard Hayden Jeffrey, who was chosen MVP at the Junior All-Native Tournament earlier this year in Nanaimo. Alex Staniforth and Daniel Goodman are two key forwards, both able to contribute scoring and rebounding. Shooting guard Ryder Jenks will also play important minutes.
The Wildcats were one of two Nanaimo teams to reach the provincial championships in 2015 – the NDSS boys were the other – and Welly intends on making a return trip.
“We had a pretty good run [last year],” said Staniforth. “Now that we’re all older and we’re a better team, it should be a fun year.”
Wellington’s boys visit the Barsby Blazers on Jan. 5 at 7 p.m at the John Barsby Secondary School gym.
The Wellington Wildcats are trying to find ways to scratch and claw and stay in basketball games early this year.
The senior AAA girls have an overhauled roster and the players are still figuring out how they fit together.
“The girls haven’t really played together very much, so they’ve got to start to trust each other and build that sense of team…” said Nicole McRae, the team’s coach. “We’ve got some people in the right spots, we just need to jell. We need to come together.”
The ’Cats have lost some games this fall, but they won a couple in tournament action last weekend and are showing commitment to improvement.
Olivia Mjaaland is the team’s veteran leader and best player and is fearless driving the paint. She is joined by fellow returnees Shaneeka Swift, who will provide secondary scoring from the shooting guard position, and Mccalli Franklin, who can rebound and score. Sabrina Milligan, though a Grade 12, is new to the team and has been an immediate contributor in the backcourt. Shaylie Jobbagy is a promising Grade 10 forward.
“The girls are hard-working. They don’t quit; they’re always giving it their all…” McRae said. “It doesn’t matter what the score is, they don’t stop. They keep trying to execute, they keep trying to run their offence, work hard on D, and that’s the best thing you can have as a coach, is girls that want to work hard and want to play.”
Wellington Secondary School will host its annual Superball tournament Jan. 7-9. Look for game times in upcoming issues of the News Bulletin.
For the Woodlands Eagles, it isn’t just another basketball season – it’s their last season.
With Woodlands Secondary School slated for closure in the spring, the Eagles boys will provide the last chance to cheer at the gymnasium.
“We’re using that as motivation to push us through the rest of the year,” said Dan Bown, Eagles coach.
This fall, he asked his guys if they want to be “just another team that played at Woodlands,” or a team that made a statement.
“We’re taking it to heart and we’re trying to leave a lasting mark on the school.”
Wins will be hard to come by. Some restructuring of leagues has pushed Woodlands (and John Barsby) up to the senior AAA division against traditionally higher-tiered teams such as Wellington and Nanaimo District.
“I’m just taking it as it is,” said Bown. “You can’t really argue who you’re facing … You’ve just got to go out and play.”
Point guard Jordan Cox will be Woodlands’ primary ball handler and scorer, while forward Max MacKay will bring toughness, rebounding and scoring. Shooting guard Ardel Cabusas and forward Ben Whiting are other contributors.
The coach said the group can achieve its goals if it works hard and applies what it learns in practice to games.
“We’re a team in progress…” Bown said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to put in to get to where we want to be by season’s end.”
Woodlands hosts the Nanaimo District Islanders on Jan. 5 at 7 p.m. at the Woodlands Secondary School gym.
Woodlands wasn’t able to put together a senior girls’ team this season.
The Barsby Blazers were able to surprise some teams last year, but now, playing one tier higher, upsets will be harder to come by.
John Barsby Secondary School’s senior boys have a largely rebuilt roster this year as they make the jump to the AAA division.
“Things that we might have done earlier last year, because we were a more veteran team, this year we’re just in our basic set,” said Brian Lennox, the team’s coach. “Our offence is pretty simplistic. We just try to get guys in spots, try to minimize our weaknesses and play to our strengths.”
The Blazers have the ability to be tough defensively, but the consistency isn’t yet where it needs to be. The communication has to improve, the coach said, and “we’ve also got to be competing on every possession. Right now we’re not there.”
Michael Wyse is the team’s primary scorer, but whereas in the past he was a shooting guard, now he’s being asked to take on an expanded role as point guard. Forward Brendon Dumont will be an all-around contributor and another forward, Ibrahim Herwi, will also chip in points. Alex Bonnetplume and Austin Olson, now that their football season is over, will be looked upon to play important minutes on the basketball court.
The Blazers play an exhibition game against the Dover Bay Dolphins today (Dec. 17) at 7 p.m. at the Dover Bay Secondary School gymnasium.
John Barsby won’t put a senior girls’ team on the court this season.
— Greg Sakaki (@BulletinSports) December 17, 2015