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Cougar boys a work in progress

The Notre Dame Cougars are a work in progress.

For now, head coach Tom Henley wants to see his senior high boys basketball squad work on increasing their energy level and on-court communication.

The Cougars are lacking in size, but Henley and assistant coach Ed Major can work around that shortfall. Finding that consistent sizzle is another matter.

“We’re not a big team at all this year so we’re running an offence that fits our size and skill set,” said Henley, following a woeful 67-44 loss to Edmonton Strathcona Christian in Friday’s opening game of the Cougar Classic boys tournament at Notre Dame.

“But we are so hit and miss in terms of intensity and in terms of talking. On defence we take plays off and today was a prime example.”

Friday’s tournament opener was basically over at the break, although the Cougars came to life somewhat in the second half.

“We were down 38 points at the half and brought it back to 23 when we decided we wanted to wake up,” added Henley. “And we came back in the second half without our starters on the floor. I left them on the bench to send a message. In a pressure situation, on a day like today with the whole school watching them, these kids just went away from the basics that they know.”

The Cougars have five Grade 12 players on their roster, although only center Mike Malin saw extensive floor time last season. Forwards Dustin Schaber and Kieran Pruden have a measure of senior high experience, while center Diego Menjivar is another returnee and point guard Maurice Evangelista is a rookie.

The other returning players are point guard Jose Vizcarra and forwards Amet Deng and Akoon Akhon. The other first-year players are forwards Mark Griffith, Nicole Lachica, Trent Driedger and Tony Bornyi.

The Cougars were paced last season by the likes of Jordan Handel, Dario Viveros and Jesse Clark. All three have graduated and Handel, in fact, is at the University of Calgary.

“We kind of ran the table on this (Central Alberta) league the last few years with Jordan and Dario pushing us,” said Henley. “This is a rebuilding year. I hesitate to say that based on us having five Grade 12s, but the reality is that most of them didn’t play much last year.”

The Cougars posted a 1-3 record in a tournament at Edmonton St. Francis Xavier earlier this season, their lone positive result coming against Airdrie Bert Church.

“Those are the kind of tournaments that help a team learn to play at a top level and at a top pace,” said Henley.

“The same with this tournament.”

Notre Dame is currently 2-0 in league play, with wins over Ponoka and Lacombe. The Cougars are in Stettler Tuesday to face the Wildcats.

“We’ve done what we need to do against teams we should be beating, but this (loss to Strathcona Christian) should have been closer,” said Henley. “This is a game we could have won, in my opinion.”

After getting 14 points from Malin in their tournament opener, the Cougars went on to beat Edmonton St. Joseph 74-43 in their second game Friday. Malin scored 18 points and Schaber added 14 for Notre Dame.

The Cougars fell 72-54 to Red Deer rival Hunting Hills Lightning in the third-place game Saturday. Joel Peterson netted 12 points for the Lightning, while the Cougars got 17 from Deng and 15 from Malin.

Despite the loss to Hunting Hills, Henley expects his team to be competitive with their cross-street foes as well as their other Red Deer rivals — the Lindsay Thurber Raiders — this season.

“With the players we have and some of the skill set in the starters, I think it’s very realistic that we can contend,” said the Cougars coach. “I won’t be surprised if we lose out in the 4A zone playoffs, but if we get to the provincials I won’t be shocked.”

Hunting Hills finished 2-1 in the Cougar Classic.

The Lightning, with Mike Ward scoring 15 points and Peterson contributing 11, lost their opener 67-50 to St. Albert Catholic. Later Friday, Dallas Henry drained 16 points and Sean Campbell added 13 in a 10-1 romp over Mallaig.

Strathcona Christian was a 72-52 winner over St. Albert Catholic in the tournament final.



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