The Lindsay Thurber Raiders basketball squads know one thing for certain this season: they will be in the provincial 4A Alberta Schools Athletic Association Championships.
The Raiders are hosting provincials Mar. 14-16 and for the last time, will have 32 teams involved.
They’re changing the format next year and going away from hosting both boys and girls together.
“Hosting both for the last time is exciting,” said Raiders senior girls head coach Kathy Lalor.
Boys head coach Joel Carroll agrees.
“It’s a unique opportunity for us as they’re moving away from a 32-team format,” he said.
The girls will have three players — McKinley Penninga, Jorgia Hicks and Jovana Prodanovic — returning to the provincials for third straight season with Jaeda Marquart and Nilah Le, Amelia Roberts and Chloe Penz in their second year.
“I think the girls experience last year will be helpful for sure, plus some of the girls played club in Calgary this summer which helped,” said Lalor. “The nice thing is that basketball is a priority for a lot of the girls.
“We have a real strong group of seven returnees and another group just behind them wanting to move to the next level. We should have a decent bench which you need to have success at the 4A level.”
They also have one of the best players in the province in Penninga, who has committed to the University of Alberta last week.
“The great thing about McKinley is that she’s a team player,” said Lalor. “She loves the game and that carries over to her teammates. What I like about her the most is that she’s a good player and a good teammate.”
Overall Kathy has eight players in Grade 12 led by Prodanovic, Penninga, Hicks , Le and Marquart with Shaya Roberge, Jattu Sesay and McKenna Leslie moving up from the zone champion JV program.
Charlene Alcon, Lyla McKeage and Blair King are the other Grade 11s who played JV last year.
“The girls moving up have the experience of winning last year and have the desire to work hard and improve every day,” said Lalor, who didn’t select her team until last Thursday.
“The girls aren’t satisfied where they’re at, they all want to be better. We have a good team, but also have a lot of work to do and everyone on this team is willing to do that. They come to practice asking what they can do, which is exciting for a coach.”
Outside of Penninga, Lalor feels they have several girls who want to play post-secondary basketball and have the ability to do so.
The boys edition of the Raiders have five players returning with only three — Ayden Cook, Noah Nakonechny and Jordy Lumeka — in Grade 12.
The Raiders lost in last year’s zone final to Lacombe.
“Disappointing as we had a balanced team last year, but it happens,” said Carroll, who is in his seventh season as Raiders head coach. “I’m excited about this year’s group as we have an opportunity to work together and build toward the provincials.
“Knowing we’re going to be in provincials gives us a chance to go through all the bumps and obstacles to get good. It gives me a longer leash to build confidence and for them to build as a team so we can be at our best in February and March.”
Two of the Raiders top returnees are in Grade 11 in six-foot-five Noah Foley and starting point guard Sahil Zekria.
Overall, the Raiders have good height, including two Grade 10s — Tyson DeZutter and Maks Strzalecki, both listed at close to six-foot-five — and six-foot-five, 230-pound Artem Tsekhotskyi of the Ukraine, who is in his first season of organized basketball.
“He only picked up a basketball for the first time last year and has already come a long way,” said Carroll. “It’s exciting to see what he can bring to the table.”
Other additions to the Raiders are Eden Bourne, AJ Bermillo, Evin Chu, Kai Klass and Sid Kumar, all up from the JV program.
One change this season is that the 4A schools only play each other in league play.
“We play each team twice which will foster a competitive nature between the schools,” said Carroll.
The LTCHS teams, who play in a tournament in Edmonton this weekend, open their home schedule Tuesday when they host Hunting Hills.
The provincials will be spread out across the city with games at LTCHS, St. Joes, Notre Dame and the RDP Gary W Harris Canada Games Centre and possibly Hunting Hills, which is having construction on their facilities.
“Hopefully, they’ll be ready as well,” said Lalor. “The nice thing is we will be able to use the best gymnasiums in the city and it is exciting to use RDP. We were looking to use the RDP gym on the final day as well but they have other commitments.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at email@example.com