It’s shaping up to be a strong season for the Notre Dame Cougars Sr. Boys basketball team.
The Cougars are coming off a strong showing at their annual Senior Boys Cougar Classic tournament at Notre Dame this past weekend, walking away with a 2-1 record and a bronze medal for their efforts.
“We were in a couple of close games, and, I mean, early in the season that doesn’t always happen, depending on how your league schedule is. You know, the way our league is set up, there’s some teams that are stronger than others, but in this tournament we had a couple of close, competitive games,” said senior boys basketball Coach Stephen Merredew.
The Cougars got the weekend off to a strong start with an early win over Prairie Christian Academy.
Led by returning Gr. 12 Cody White, Notre Dame surged to an 88-39 romp in game one.
“We always look to our Grade 12s for veteran leadership. Cody White is one of our top guards and scorers. He’s a guy who’s got provincial team experience and he’s a really hard worker and a good example for the rest of the team,” Merredew said.
White led the team in scoring in all three games that they played this weekend.
Next up for the Cougars was a showdown with Airdrie’s Bert Church Chargers.
While Notre Dame kept it close, they couldn’t pull off a second straight victory to make it to the gold medal game, falling to the Chargers by just two points 78-76. It was their first loss of the season.
While it was a very close game, Merredew said it came down to team defense.
“It’s frustrating to think that, ‘Oh we play such good defense, how do we give up 78 points?’ And you’re able to look at the fast-break points of the other team and say, ‘Well there they are’,” he said, adding that defense is something that nearly every basketball team wants to improve on.
“That’s something that I think that any team would love to improve on, and so far it’s arguably cost us our only loss of the season.”
That set the Cougars up for a Saturday afternoon showdown with Assumption, the only other team in the tournament that earned a Provincial berth last season.
Notre Dame rose to the challenge, though, defeating the Cold Lake team 67-54 to claim the bronze medal.
This year’s iteration of the Cougars features only two returning Senior team players in White and Josh Valentine.
“Last year, we had a team that was very Grade 12-heavy, obviously. Last time 13 players were in Grade 12. It was a great veteran team and we were undefeated in league play and we won ourselves a championship and we won a game at provincials. Those are all good things,” Merredew said, but he added that the team isn’t without that star quality this season.
“Our two returning players, they weren’t just part-timers for us last year. They were key contributors who played a lot of minutes.”
In addition to those two, the team is also getting offense from a number of players who were on the Jr. Varsity team last season.
“They’ve been part of a successful program there, our JV team has always had great results and they’re always really well coached, so we’re glad to have a lot of veteran guys who have been around awhile,” Merredew said.
In fact, the Senior team only has one Gr. 10 on it, which is about normal for a 4A-division school.
“Because of how strong our Junior team is, it’s often valuable for them to play together for a year because they’re all coming in from different middle schools and a lot of them haven’t had a chance to play together so that exposure as a team for the first time in Grade 10 is sometimes good.”
With the three Red Deer-area high schools hosting the 4A basketball Provincials this year, it’s imperative that the team be ready to go come March.
“As a local team, you never want to just get that last seed. You always want to prove that you’re worthy of playing against a team that’s not just going to crush you and you have to get wins in order to do that,” Merredew said.
So far, the Cougars have set themselves up to do just that, winning their first two regular season games 86-42 in Innisfail and 67-62 at home against Camrose.
The team also played Tuesday night at home against HJ Cody, but that game was not over at press time.
“I’m excited about the year. The guys are really working hard in practice and we have some definite goals for the season, I mean you always want your last game of the playoffs to be a win.”