The Notre Dame Cougars might be lacking in senior high boys basketball experience, but they have a host of players with a take-charge mentality.
“A lot of our players have played a year or two of JV ball and we have some Grade 12 leadership that made a world of difference for us last year,” said Notre Dame head coach Stephen Merredew, whose host squad defeated Cold Lake Assumption 67-54 in Saturday’s third-place game of the Cougar Classic senior boys tournament.
“That’s something I can’t say enough about last year’s zone championship team, that I was able to look up and down the bench and every guy was a leader. Our Grade 12s this year have been around this program and they’ve got to experience what we have to offer and what we expect. They’re good leaders.”
Just two of the Cougars’ Grade 12 players were with the team last season — guard Cody White and forward Josh Ballantyne.
“Cody and Josh were both key contributors for us last year, they weren’t end of the bench guys by any stretch,” said Merredew. “They were solid contributors who we’re going to expect a lot out of this year on and off the court.”
The other seniors — guard Don Sinlao and forwards Franz Credo, Zach Best and Griffin Moline — have come up from the Notre Dame JV program, as have Grade 11 guards Edward Ortiz, Beko Wande, Jeb Maribojoc and Kris LeBlanc, Grade 11 forward Ryan Nielsen and Grade 10 forward Rudy Soffo.
“All of these guys work really hard in practice and they demonstrated a lot of skill in JV,” said Merredew. “They were a good unit together in JV last year. They put up good results and so far they’ve shown that they are buying in and that they want to win.”
As a result, Merredew hasn’t detected a problem with the players transitioning to the senior game.
“Admittedly it’s early in the season and we haven’t faced a lot of tests,” he said.
The visiting Camrose Kodiaks did present the Cougars with a challenge in league play last week, however.
“Camrose was really good with a lot of Grade 10s who are really athletic,” said Merredew, looking back on the 67-62 Notre Dame win. “Camrose brought it all game and we didn’t expect that, to be honest. Our guys got battle-tested early and there’s nothing wrong with a close game early in the season because it sets you up for later in the year.”
Merredew, in his first year as Cougars head coach after serving three seasons as an assistant, sees plenty of potential in his squad.
“If they keep working hard and playing together as a team I think that they’ll like the results,” he said.
• White paced the Cougars with 29 points in the Cougar Classic third-place game.
Airdrie Bert Church was a 76-69 win over Edmonton J. Percy Page in the championship final. Bedford Road of Saskatoon took consolation honours with an 81-23 victory over Prairie Christian Academy of Three Hills.