R.D. Parker Collegiate's senior girls basketball team is small this season, not in size but in numbers, with only eight players, five of whom have previous high school playing experience, but coach Sara Gillis says the squad has been surprisingly competitive thus far, with seven wins in 12 games
“Because we had such a green team, being competitive at provincials was out original goal, but it has now been upgraded,” says Gillis. “We now believe we have as good a shot as any at a provincial medal this year, even the big one!”
The team began the season with just one Grade 12 on the roster, though it has recently added another who transferred from Winnipeg to begin the second semester. The sole returning Grade 12 player is Sydney Clemons, categorized by Gillis as a complete player.
“Sydney's style of play is a great example for the other players because she is very well-rounded,” Gillis says. “She can drive, shoot, and handle the ball very effectively, making her difficult to defend. She is also a playmaker and knows her teammates are capable of connecting when she sets them up for a feed.”
Clemons's talent is recognized by others too, as she was named tournament MVP at the Trojans' most recent tournament in Sanford Feb. 8-9, which saw RDPC go undefeated, beating Shaftesbury 80-63 in the final after defeating Sanford 66-33 in the semifinal and St. James by a 65-45 score in the first game of the tournament. On top of the win, the tournament gave Gillis and her teammates their first chance to see new player Coleen Nicolas in action and Gillis had to lie what she saw, as Nicolas was named a tournament all-star.
“She was definitely hungry to play,” said Gillis. “Having a young team and lacking experience and numbers, Coleen was an exciting addition to our team. Being a Grade 12 who has played high school and club ball, she brings some experience athleticism and a nice three-point shot.”
At the other end of the experience spectrum are Adrianna Proulx, Bryanna Bourguignon and Caitlin Fennel, Grade 9 players that Gillis talked into joining the varsity squad so that the school could have a team.
“The three Grade 9s have had extensive club experience and have sound skills, so I felt that they needed to jump to the senior level. I have no regrets in this decision and I don't think they do, either. They are talented, coachable girls that are working really hard and currently playing beyond their years.”
Proulx has been consistent offensively through the season, tallying double-digit point totals in eight of 12 games this season, while Fennel has twice recorded a double-double, including a 20-point, 11-rebound effort against the AAAA Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute team at the linden Christian charity tournament Jan. 15-16.
Bridging the gap between the rookies and the veterans are three returning Grade 11 players – Nicole Robson, Krystin Williams and Tatum O'Meara.
“These girls did not see a lot of big game playing time last year because we had eight Grade 12s, but with one year of senior varsity experience under their belt, they know the pace and have quickly risen to the challenge, adapting and improving every day and every game,” Gillis says.
Despite the compact roster, Gillis says she is lucky to have a collection of well-rounded players who are in great shape – because they have to be.
“The Trojan varsity girls have some height, some speed and every one of them are skilled basketball players,” says their coach. “They are in great shape and have outrun most teams we have played in this second half of the season.”
Besides improving their skills, the players have also benefited from proving to themselves that they can compete.
“Winning a tournament and competing with some AAAA teams have fuelled our confidence,” says Gillis. “Now it is just a matter of continuing to practise hard, working on our weaknesses to make them strengths, and working to bring our play up another level in the next few weeks.”
Among the improvements Gillis is hoping to see is improved defence, as the team's goal is to limit opponents to 50 points or less. Defensive rebounding and dealing with backcourt pressure are other areas of focus.
The Trojans were ranked fourth among AAA high school teams in the province in the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association’s latest weekly rankings on Feb. 21, down from third the previous week. They’ve faced just one of the teams ahead of them so far, the Windsor Park Royals, who rated tops in the province. RDPC’s squad dropped 64-37 decision to the Royals in their second game of the season, having a tough time with Windsor Park’s zone defence and playing an all-around poor game against what was already a strong team, says Gillis.