This year's Cougars are bigger, faster and work harder
Bigger, faster and with a great work ethic.
That pretty much sums up this season’s version of the Notre Dame Cougars senior boys basketball squad, according to head coach Ed Major and assistant Stephen Merredew.
“We have a lot of talented kids, a lot of guys who want to work hard,” said Major, who last year assisted head man Tom Henley. “We have good height this year compared to last season, and again, the skill level is really, really high. We’re excited about this year.”
The Cougars plan of attack this season is to . . . attack.
“We play a pretty up-tempo kind of game,” said Major, whose squad posted a 1-1 record — losing to Edmonton St. Joseph’s and beating Cochrane Bow Valley — in the four-team Cougar Classic tournament Friday and Saturday. “We’re really trying to make the opposition defence work and when we’re on defence we’re really stretching the court out.
“We’re trying to play full court the whole game . . . 40 minutes of just trying to wear a team down, any team that we play.”
Major is confident the Cougars, who opened Central Alberta League play last week with a 79-37 win over the Stettler Wildcats, can maintain an all-out pace due to increased quickness and the depth of his roster.
“I think we’re a lot quicker this year,” he said. “I think we have a lot more skilled players and a deeper bench, for sure. We can roll every player off that bench actually and we won’t lose too much in the skill department. As long as we keep some of our skilled players mixed in with role players we can roll all 14 guys.”
Added Merredew: “And we’ve done that our first three games. We’ve had 11 and 12 guys scoring for us all three games, which is rare in basketball.”
The Cougars lineup features five returning players in point guard Jose Vizcarra, forwards Amet Deng, Trenton Driedger and Nicole Lachica and guard Tony Bornyi.
New to the roster are point guards Ken Villaluz and Keno Villaluz, forwards Logan Hermus, Theoren Gill, Keegan MacDonald, TJ Carter, Jackson Haddow and Joe McQuay, and guard Jake Dahl, the vast majority of whom played with a strong Notre Dame JV team last season.
Major and Merredew oversaw a large contingent of players who attended the recent junior and senior boys camps.
“We had 70 guys trying out for the two teams. It was tough to sort out guys,” said Major. “Trying to get guys through drills in practice was a challenge, as was getting down to 14 players. We had to break some hearts.”
The coaches are confident that what remained following the cuts has formed a competitive team that should be right in the mix during the regional playoffs in March.
The Cougars lost to Lindsay Thurber in a semifinal last spring. Hunting Hills then beat Thurber to advance to the provincial championship tournament.
“Our compete level is pretty good right now,” said Major. “We peaked pretty early in that department last year. We were working hard in January and February and went down from that.
“This year we’re starting off pretty high. We’re still making some rookies mistakes, mistakes we hopefully won’t make in March. We’re confident we’re going to compete, for sure. We’re going to give teams all they can handle.”
Merredew noted that the Cougars’ veteran presence will likely play a role in whichever way the season turns and turns out.
“You always want to win your last game of the year,” he said. “Having that strong mix of Grade 12s in there . . . they’re motivated. They don’t want to go out on a sour note.”