The Notre Dame Cougars senior boys basketball team is loaded for a deep run this season.
Though they are returning only six players from last year’s team they have been boosted by an influx of talent from their junior varsity zone championship team.
To pick this year’s squad, head coach Ed Major had more than 70 kids out for tryouts.
“We had a lot of guys, we’re lucky,” said Major. “I’ve been telling people it’s an embarrassment of riches we have, but it definitely makes it hard to pick two teams out of that to pick the juniors and seniors.”
They have two big strengths: depth and athleticism.
Major says are in the rare situation where they don’t lose much between their starters and their bench, they can basically make an entire line change and not miss a beat, sitting 11 deep. This also allows them to play a high-energy, high-pressure game.
They are led by two third year guards — Tony Bornyi and Nico Lachica.
“(Bornyi) had some leg injuries to start the season, but is getting better and I think he is going to be one of our key contributors both offensively and defensively,” said Major.
Down low they have potentially one of the more dominant players in the region in Jackson Haddow while Grade 11 wing Cody White adds some skill and a consistent mid-range jumper to keep opposing defences honest.
To help the cause, Grade 12 wing Daniel Gurdian transferred in from Medicine Hat, increasing their physicality and intensity.
“He brings things that we don’t usually see around here, especially with the toughness,” said Major. “Down south the refs seem to let a lot more of the inside stuff go … and you have to be tough to get through that. He brings that energy and toughness to the team.”
The biggest challenge may be the short window for full development.
“We have good athletes, but they’re still not basketball players yet,” said Major. “We have multi-sport athletes and we’re just trying to get them into basketball mode.”
With their lineup, their goal is take over top spot in Red Deer from Hunting Hills.
“We’re off to a pretty good start in league play, my expectation is to get to the zone final and see what happens from there,” said Major.
Girls loaded with potential
The Notre Dame Cougars senior girls basketball team is all about potential this year.
With a young group of players last season, they were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the Hunting Hills Lightning. Now it’s time to see how much they have learned and grown from that experience.
“We have enough returners that they’re familiar with the systems, they’re familiar with the way I coach,” said Cougars head coach Erika Pottage.
“Right now we’ve just got to learn to read each other and play with each other a little bit more. We don’t know each other as players on the court yet … it’s getting the players to know each other strengths, to realize those strengths and to use those strengths.”
The window for a provincial run with this team is open for more than just one season with a large part of their roster made up of Grade 11 players and an excellent Grade 10. However, they are already showing they could see that potential come to fruition this year.
They are one of the biggest teams in Central Alberta with three Grade 11 posts hovering around six-feet tall — Kirsten Pinkney, Hayley Hollings and Gemma Davis — and a fourth, Chelsea Antonio, who is five-foot-eight, in Grade 12 and can more than handle herself below the hoop.
“They have all been very consistent and they all have different strengths, they don’t all do the same thing,” said Pottage.
The newest member of the starting five is Grade 10 wing Glennikka Kubaron, who provides them a reliable outside shot, giving their big bodies room to work in the paint. In Tuesday’s 60-31 win over the Wetaskiwin Sabres, the five-foot-10 rookie scored a game-high 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
“She’s fundamentally strong, it’s just getting her used to all the systems,” said Pottage. “She’s got a pretty nice shot, she’s pretty consistent and she’s strong, she’s a big girl. To have that kind of a body on the wing is always an advantage for us.”
The Cougars are also set at point guard with Grade 12 Autumn Letkeman forming a speedy and formidable back court with Cierra Jean Stephens, allowing them to play an up-tempo game.
“We like to push the ball with a lot of pressure,” said Pottage. “The girls really thrive off that intensity of the press and then they play a little bit better.”
Notre Dame is already showing well this season, but Pottage knows the real test will come after Christmas with a challenging slate of tournaments and showdowns against their city rivals.
“The goal is to make a run at getting to provincials,” said Pottage. “But it’s hard to say that, because both other high schools in Red Deer are strong teams and well coached. It’s really going to come down to who peaks at the right time.”