Three years of hard work has finally paid off for Ed Major and the Notre Dame Cougars.
The Cougars beat arch rival Lindsay Thurber Raiders 65-48 to sweep the best-of-three Central Alberta 4A Zone senior boys basketball championship on Thursday and punch their ticket for provincials next week in Edmonton.
“We’ve lost the last two years to Lindsay Thurber and it was nice to get that zone title from them and not so much the other school there,” said Major.
Despite the 17-point spread, the game was far from easy for the Cougars.
The Raiders got out to an 8-0 lead — in a reversal of Game 1 where the Cougars lead 26-6 after the first quarter — but Notre Dame slowly chipped away at the lead.
After the opening 10 minutes, Thurber lead 17-13, but the Cougars kept coming and took a 27-26 lead into the half.
In the third quarter, however, Notre Dame overwhelmed their hosts and started to pull away, building a 45-37 advantage.
The game was put to bed with about 3:30 to go as Tony Bornyi drilled a three-pointer to put Notre Dame up by 14 points.
Bornyi finished with 13 points while point guard Kenneth Veillaluz had a game high 16 for the Cougars.
This Cougars team has been building together for a while now, having won a junior zone title last year together before moving up to senior ball this year.
But this will be the first provincial tournament for almost all of them.
One exception, however, is Grade 12 small forward Dani Gurdian who was a top defender for Notre Dame all season after transferring from Medicine Hat High School during the summer and shut down the Raiders’ Ben Pasiuk in the final. Last year he helped the Mohawks to a bronze medal at provincials, he will be looked to provide some leadership in Edmonton.
“It’s definitely a mental game, if you can keep your head you can play to the best of your ability and do great things,” said Gurdian, 17.
“When I first moved, I didn’t know anything about the team, and I knew my (old) team was provincial ready. Moving here and playing with this team and making provincials means a lot.”
For the Raiders, it was a tough end to their season after beating the Hunting Hills Lightning in the zone semifinal last week, however, head coach Carl Light was quick to praise the team that eliminated them.
“I respect coach Ed Major and what he’s done with those boys, they deserve to win and they will represent our zone well at provincials,” he said.
For Thurber, they were just outgunned in the final. In Game 1 they were unable to slow the Cougars early, digging themselves a big hole and in Thursday’s match they had no answer for Notre Dame when they got rolling in the third quarter.
TK Kunaka and Pasiuk led the Raiders with 10 points each while Ben Holmes added seven more.
Light says they will learn from this experience and come back with a strong team next season.
“These Raiders never quit, they play hard, buy into our systems and they are an easy group to coach,” said Light.
Jasper Place High School in Edmonton is hosting the 4A provincials this year with the tournament getting underway on Thursday next week and running through Saturday. The draw has not been set yet, though regardless of who they play Major says the key is to start fast.
“The Central Zone, that first game seems to be a struggle every year for us, we compete but we just can’t get over the top,” he said. “so who ever that first game is, we’re really just going to put it all on the line in that game and see what happens.”