Notre Dame Cougars senior boys basketball coach Dale Henderson couldn’t help but smile.
After all, the opener of the annual Cougar Classic couldn’t have gone any better for the host squad, playing their first game of the season.
They ran out to a 56-19 lead at halftime over the Louis St. Laurent Barons and rolled to a convincing 106-54 victory at Notre Dame Friday.
“We ran the ball, we pushed and we pushed it, so I was excited about that. We have four or five new guys. So they have to figure out how to play at this level but I was happy with a lot of things,” Henderson said.
“We scored a lot in the first half and that made the second half a lot easier.”
Jess Money, one of the Cougars’ big forwards, of which they have several, led the way with 24 points. Fellow big man Parker Weinrauch also had a strong night with 21 points.
The length those two bring to the floor, along with a collection of player six-feet-one or taller allowed the Cougars to do dominate the boards and clog the lane in their season opener.
“The goal is to keep them fresh. Shorter shifts, get out, go hard for three or four minutes and then hop out. If someone gets in foul trouble, we’ve got guys behind them that can support,” Henderson said.
“We just gotta keep them fresh and keep teaching them how to be strong and finish, little things like that.”
Not only was that key, but Notre Dame also ran the floor well, pushing the pace with the 56 points at the half.
Henderson certainly didn’t know what to expect coming into the year or the opener, with seven returners but five new bodies joining the squad this season.
“We have four or five new guys that we have to put in the lineup because they all have to be able to play. The younger guys are pushing the older guys,” Henderson said.
“The guys that have come in are all capable of playing. We had to cut kids that are capable of playing at this level, which doesn’t always happen.”
As for the classic, as a tournament, it has operated in the region for at least 37 years, first at Camielle J. Lerouge and the last 24 at Notre Dame.
Henderson said they always draw some of the top schools in the province and on occasion, one or two from out of province. It creates a competitive way to start the season for the vast majority of teams.
“It’s always nice to win your home tournament, for me, it’s about getting good games in and giving guys a chance to play against good competition,” he said.
Along with the Cougars and Barons, the Jasper Place Rebels, Assumption, Holy Trinity, St. Joseph Falcons, St. Joes Edmonton and Mount Baker out of Cranbrook will all compete on the weekend. The gold medal game is Saturday night at 8:15 p.m.
On the girls’ side, the Cougars picked up a 66-21 victory over the Barons. They will play Leduc Composite High School on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at Notre Dame. Assumption, Holy Trinty, St. Joseph Red Deer, McCoy and Winston Churchill make up the rest of the girls’ bracket. The gold medal game is Saturday at 6:30 p.m.