Tipoff 2016-17: High school teams have got game

The Nanaimo News Bulletin presents its annual season preview of the city's senior boys' and senior girls' basketball squads.




THE city’s schools have different strengths and different sports traditions. But basketball is something they can all agree on.

Basketball matters at all Nanaimo secondary schools, and that’s true again this year, as every public school will put both a senior boys’ and senior girls’ team on the court in 2016-17. Nanaimo District, Wellington, Dover Bay, John Barsby and Cedar all have players excited about b-ball; so does Nanaimo Christian School.

Here’s the News Bulletin’s annual high school basketball preview:

NDSS BOYS

The Nanaimo District Islanders senior AAA boys, runners-up last winter, have given early notice that they’re the team to beat in the city this year with convincing wins against Wellington and Dover.

“We have a process that we want to implement throughout the season, but getting results early in the year is good for the kids to kind of buy into what you’re preaching,” said Jacob Thom, NDSS coach.

He said he likes the progress he’s seeing from his group.

“We’re right on par where we kind of want to be right now,” he said. “It’s still super early in the year, so there’s things that we don’t really have in place and things that we can improve on, but I’m satisfied with where we are.”

He said the team has a lot of size, which will be an advantage against most opponents, especially since the Islanders are not only big, but mobile. ND also expects to be able to rebound well, which will help at both ends of the court.

Power forward Anders Cederberg is the go-to guy, with the ability to score from anywhere. Guards Will Fridriksson and James Robinson also play versatile games. Forward Max Therrien and centre Ismael Ndiaye are among the other contributors.

The Isles will play an exhibition game this Friday (Dec. 23) against the Dover Bay Dolphins at the Dover Bay Secondary School gym. Tipoff time is 1 p.m.

NDSS GIRLS

Last season was a long time ago, and so the Nanaimo District Islanders can’t simply pick up where they left off, but they can try to be a step ahead.

The NDSS senior AA girl team returns most of its core from last year.

“Because we were such a young team last year, we weren’t necessarily super successful, but we were able to gain that development,” said Jenna Carver, the team’s coach.

She said the Islanders’ greatest strength is that they’re a hard-working group. That not only translates to practice, but is also evident out on the court, with honest 40-minute efforts no matter the score.

“We’re just going to be hoping to be playing our best basketball and showing up every day and giving it our all and that’s all that we can ask for,” Carver said.

Jenna Falkenberg is expected to be the team’s top scorer; she is adept at driving to the basket.

Taylor Olsen, a guard, and Laura Greene, at forward, are two of the team’s leaders. Marina Andersen plays point guard and Claudia Fletcher and Beth Nailor will be contributors up front.

The Islanders senior girls have a home game tonight (Dec. 20) as the Ladysmith 49ers will visit the Nanaimo District Secondary School gym for a 7 p.m. tipoff.

WELLINGTON BOYS

The Wellington Wildcats, defending Island champions, have the pieces to be back in contention again this season.

“We have a lot of potential with our core…” said Graham Giske, co-coach. “But we need to work better as a team defensively and offensively right now.”

For a variety of reasons, the Wildcats had trouble at the start of the season getting all their guys on the court at once.

“It’s more of a process right now,” Giske said. “We haven’t had 10 guys, so our practices have been with seven guys usually with injuries and stuff, so it’s been hard to build that cohesiveness.”

The ’Cats, just like last year, have a lot of shooting talent. They will be undersized against some opponents, though, said Giske, meaning they will need to try to balance that by playing at a higher pace.

The core consists of forwards Alex Staniforth, who slashes to the basket well, and Ryder Jenks, who can score from inside and out, as well as accurate outside shooter Brooks Branchi. Yas Tsuda is another contributor and Gordon Yam takes over as point guard this season.

Wellington’s next regular-season home game won’t be until Jan. 10, when the Ballenas Whalers visit for a 7 p.m. tipoff.

WELLINGTON GIRLS

Wellington has a strong basketball tradition, but a lot of the school’s athletes excel at other sports, too.

“I’ve got a track star, I’ve got a hockey/baseball star, I’ve got two volleyball stars, so I’ve got a lot of kids who are really involved in other things, which is fine,” said Nicole McRae, coach of the senior AA girls. “Basketball isn’t always their No. 1, but they love playing, so they’re here.”

It makes for a “neat group,” the coach said, with athletic talent that translates to the basketball court. She thinks her team will be able to play good defence and stop opponents, while scoring enough to be competitive.

The early part of the season involved a lot of learning, and “now we’re starting to see what we have to work on and it’s kind of coming together,” said McRae.

Shaylie Jobbagy is a basketball-first player, top scorer and a team leader. Nicole Scherr, a bench player last year, has totally changed her game and become a key cog in the paint. Mccalli Franklin has good basketball instincts and can shoot from outside. Veronica Wong is starting point guard this year and backup point guard will be Cassidy Giesbrecht, an energetic addition to the team.

Wellington’s next home action will be Jan. 12-14, when it hosts the annual Superball tournament along with the Wildcats senior boys.

DOVER BAY BOYS

Dover’s senior AAAA boys have a lot of talented players, but they have a long way to go toward really becoming a team.

The squad has a lot of turnover from a year ago and so it’s a mix of ages, experience levels and skill sets.

“With anything that’s new, there are some growing pains that go with it,” said Carson Williams, the team’s coach. “But as long as we keep going the way we’re going, I’m pretty confident by the end of the year we’ll have improved significantly and could be a force to be reckoned with if we get all of our things in order.”

Dover has a strong junior program, so the newcomers to the senior team arrive with the right basketball fundamentals.

“We still have a long way to go, but in terms of implementing what we’re trying to do, the guys are being very patient and they’re sticking with what we’re trying to do and it’s been sometimes successful and sometimes not, but I’ve been pretty pleased with their effort and their attitude,” Williams said.

He’d like to see his team push the ball and play “fast and free,” but in many ways he’ll tailor the game plan to his athletes because he wants them to play within themselves, not try to do too much and trust their teammates, he said.

Ryan MacDonald at shooting guard is expected to be Dover’s leader in a lot of areas of the court, including scoring. Jordan Gladstone, another potent offensive threat, rejoins the team and will play point guard, and Dover will also rely on Richard Zhang at point. Swingman Brayden Turnbull and post Nick Schley are other key guys.

The Dover Bay boys host the Nanaimo District Islanders this Friday (Dec. 23) at 1 p.m. at the Dover Bay Secondary School gymnasium.

DOVER BAY GIRLS

The Dover Bay Dolphins all seem to be on the same page to start basketball season.

The senior AAA girls’ team has had a few injury problems early, but generally, with eight players returning, “they all know what’s going on,” said Rick Hart, the team’s coach.

And that means the Dolphins have an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses and the way they’ll need to play.

“We’re little, but they’re skilled and they can play…” Hart said. “[We need to] just take care of the ball and have good shot selection and just try to team defend and team rebound.”

He’ll ask the Dolphins girls to try to play smart basketball and continue to work on their skills to get to where they want to be come playoffs.

“So long as we’re healthy and we’ve got our whole team by the end, I think we’ll do pretty good,” he said.

The Dolphins are led by floor-general point guard Madeline Hart and secondary scoring will come from shooting guard Sophia Fan. Another Grade 12 leader is Mackenzie Boas. Guards Cara Dunlop and Jessica Ory add quickness and Mikaela Srdic will be a contributor in the post.

The Dolphins host the Alberni Armada on Jan. 3 at 5 p.m. at the Dover gym.

CEDAR BOYS

The Cedar Spartans will be undermanned this season, but then again, so too were the 300 Spartans in the Battle of Thermopylae and that group managed to overachieve.

The Cedar Spartans have just seven players, but will try to make a go of things in the senior A division this season in their return to the court after the high school was closed for two years.

The Spartans have a lot of areas to work on, namely defence and rebounding, but have potential if they continue to improve, said coach Rory Peffers.

“That all depends on the boys,” he said. “If they put in the effort, put in the time, work on the things we suggest, then you never know, anyone has a chance.”

Forward Matt Vickberg brings defence and hustle. Point guard Daniel Sackey likes to go to the hoop and will need to be a top scorer. Shooting guard Trevor Olson will also be looked to for scoring.

The Spartans host the Nanaimo Christian School Trailblazers on Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Cedar Community Secondary School gym.

CEDAR GIRLS

School is back in session at Cedar, and so are school sports.

Cedar Community Secondary School will be able to put a senior A girls’ basketball team on the court this season after re-opening this past September.

“In general at this school, the kids are excited that their school is in session at at all; they’re excited that the community went to bat for them and set it up and they understand that. I don’t know necessarily how much it extends to the proud Cedar basketball tradition at this point, but they’re definitely happy to be at this school and they’re happy to be playing, too,” said Don Rinald, coach of the Spartans senior girls.

The school’s enrolment numbers created some challenges in putting together a team, and the Spartans senior girls will be made up of athletes from Grade 8-11.

“It’s a work in progress,” Rinald said. “We don’t have a tradition now and we don’t have those habits formed that you would want to, necessarily, but we’ve got a core group of girls who are really passionate and who really want to play and who really want to develop their skills, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

The Spartans will have a tough schedule, as they are entered in a senior AA league that includes much larger schools such as Nanaimo District and Wellington.

Kailey Haslam, the team’s point guard, will need to be a primary scoring threat and post player Cassidy Vey will be relied upon for scoring and rebounding. Guard Makenna Curson will bring hustle. Rylin Gaunt has been injured but will be a big help upon her return.

Cedar’s next scheduled home game isn’t until the end of January. The Spartans will visit the Wellington Wildcats on Jan. 17 at 5 p.m. at the Wellington Secondary School gym.

BARSBY BOYS

The Barsby Bulldogs will have to be battlers on the basketball court this season.

John Barsby Secondary School’s senior boys’ program made the jump to AAA last year and the squad is entered in that division again, where it will face stiff competition.

“We’re building. We will be better in the future…” said Jess Black, who takes over as coach. “It’s a new team and I think for the most part, they’re football guys and they’re trying out basketball, so we’re trying to infuse some basketball skill into some football guys.”

The team might not have the nose for the net that some opponents have, so it will look to keep games low-scoring.

“We’re going to be grinders,” Black said. “We’re going to have to play hard defence, effort and that’s really where we’re going to be in games.”

Ibrahim Herwi is the team’s top scorer and leader and wing player Zach Boutin will be a key addition. Riley Merrimen, at shooting guard, and Andrew Ranftal, at forward, are other contributors.

The Bulldogs visit the Nanaimo District Islanders for a league game Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. at the NDSS gym.

BARSBY GIRLS

John Barsby Secondary School has a senior girls’ team this year entered in the local AA league.

The team’s coach could not be reached for comment.

The Blazers girls host the Highland Raiders today (Dec. 20) at 5 p.m. at the school gym.

NANAIMO CHRISTIAN BOYS

One day, the Nanaimo Christian School Trailblazers will be able to play games in their own gymnasium. But even in the meantime, the school is able to put a competitive team on the court.

The ’Blazers senior A boys have a tough schedule this year and have been playing against higher-tier opponents.

“The amount of effort and intensity that they’re bring to all the games is definitely what we need them to do to go far this season,” said Breanne Quist, the team’s coach.

The school hopes to break ground next summer on a new gym; in the meantime, the boys practise at Oliver Woods Community Centre.

Ben Sijpheer is point guard, team captain and a leader on and off the court and Michal Loots is a high-level post player. Guard Matthew Morris has good instincts and forward Alex Bloedorn plays with intensity.

NCS visits the Cedar Spartans on Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. The Trailblazers are hoping to add a home game to their schedule in mid-January at Oliver Woods.

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