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Defense Carries Spartans to Historic MacLeod Three-Peat

By Erik Van Dyke
The QSSSA had decided at their seeding meeting that your Stanstead College Spartans, two-time defending champions and owners of an impressive 30-6 record coming in, would be the #1 seed at the 2019 MacLeod Provincial Tournament. But just barely.

The #2-ranked team would be Chateauguay Valley Regional, who had beaten us in our only encounter at the BCS Invitational. The #3-seed would be Alexander Galt, who we had narrowly defeated the week previous (45-39). And Quebec High School would be ranked #5; at the Bailly semis, QHS gave us all we could handle – in fact, it was tied after three quarters before we played a perfect fourth quarter to pull away.

I hate playing teams that we’ve played before, especially when they have great coaches, and especially when we beat them the first time. They won’t get surprised by our strengths, they know what weaknesses to attack, and they are hungry for revenge.

So yeah. #1-ranking. Yay.

This was going to be tough.

Quarter-final vs Ecole Jean-Jacques Bertrand
Well, one good thing about a #1 ranking is a first game against the #8 team, in this case a local school 20 minutes down the road from MVR (the tournament hosts). As is the case with most teams that play us for the first time, our opponents had no answers for our aggressive zone defence. They consistently tried to force the ball inside, but to no avail. In fact, in one of the craziest stats I’ve seen, we had twice as many steals (29) in this game as defensive rebounds (15)! Ten out of eleven (!) Spartans recorded at least one steal, led by Kenz (7), Van (5), Emily (4) and Mariama (3). That, friends and neighbours, is unbelievable, and goes to show just how completely every single player has bought into our defensive philosophy. It takes all five players on the floor to lock it down like this. You can’t do it with just one or two.

Ultimately, a spirited 23-3 run that spanned the second and third quarters sealed the game. Final score 47-13 – with contributions from everybody wearing the Red & White – and Stanstead was into the semis.

Semifinal vs Quebec High School
I’m not gonna lie to you, I was hoping not to face QHS in this one. As mentioned above, the Blazers really wanted another shot at us after their defeat at the Bailly, and they knew us too damn well. Tactically, there were two real problems: 1) we knew the talented QHS coaching staff was going to concoct something to put us off our game; how would we react? And 2) what would we do to limit their super-guards #8 and #10, two of the best players in the tournament?

The answers came in a first quarter that saw both teams feeling each other out. The Blazers had decided to bracket Kenz at all times with two of their post players, challenging the other four on the floor to take advantage of only three defenders. Similarly, our plan focused almost exclusively on making life difficult for #8 and #10; if they were going to score, they would have to really work for it. Two defences specifically designed to force the offences out of their comfort zones. Whoever adapted better would go to The Finals.

And in our best game of the tournament, your Spartans were fantastic! Smart and patient on offence and furiously disruptive on defence. In the first half Kenz didn’t force a single shot, allowing her teammates to take advantage of all the extra space, and Emily, Rosy, Rosema and especially Alex (13 pts!) made the Blazers pay for leaving them open. And defensively Rosy, Abby, Rosma, Mariama and Van took turns hounding the QHS guards, limiting them to 7 pts combined by halftime, and most importantly frustrating them and tiring them out.

Although the halftime score was 22-11, i.e. the game was far from over, it felt like the Blazers were teetering on the edge.
And when Rosy swished an early jumper to start the third quarter, that was it. You could see their shoulders slump. There were just too many people to guard, so they took some of their attention away from Kenz, and Kenz, like the stone cold finisher she has become, instantly made them regret it by pouring in 9 pts, leading her team on a 15-0 run that effectively iced the game. 47-25 final score, a clinically executed game plan, and an impressive win over a strong opponent. Your Spartans had earned it. One more chance at history.

Final vs Chateauguay Valley Regional High School
One of the themes of the 2019 season has been how every play matters, in particular how points scored in the first quarter are just as important as those scored in the fourth quarter. We take pre-game warmup seriously and make it a priority to jump on our opponents before they know what hit them, before they can adapt to our admittedly different style of play. This approach has served us remarkably well; I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve dominated the first 4 minutes of the game, but then teams figure us out and play us evenly the rest of the game, but we still end up winning because of those first 4 minutes.

Well, in the most important game of the season, we did it one more time.

CVR is tall, fast, athletic and tough. The last time we played them we lost 19-18 in a low-scoring slugfest, where they disrupted every pass, every fast break and every post move. Their man defence was impenetrable, and their rebounding, on both ends, the best I’ve seen all season. We knew this was not going to be a pretty game. We knew every point would be hard-earned, and precious.

But thanks to our new San Antonio offence vs man-to-man (an offence designed specifically in response to that 19-18 loss – another 2019 theme is “learning from losses”), as well as intense defence/rebounding, we went on a 14-0 run to start the game!

And that is how we won the MacLeod. That first four minutes were the difference. After that blitz, the CVR coach called timeout, re-focused her players, put a premium on transition defence, and switched to a zone so good that it reminded me of ours. After that blitz, it was hand-to-hand combat out there, nothing allowed inside, no fast breaks, no layups, no gimmes. After that blitz, defensive rebounding became, for both teams, the #1 commodity, “no turnovers” became #2, and the critical question became “will anyone hit an outside shot?” After that blitz, CVR outscored us 22-13 for the rest of the game. But it was too little too late.

Because 15-yr old Rosema Lefebvre hit the most important three-point dagger of the year in the fourth quarter.

Because Cap’n Emily Willis, all 5’4” of her, scratched and clawed for 7 defensive rebounds.

Because Cap’n Mackenzy St-Pierre (17 rebs total!), through sheer force of will, somehow wrestled two offensive rebounds in a row away from CVR in the last minute of the game to run out the clock.

And because when everything else wasn’t working, when we had no answers on offence and we couldn’t buy a bucket… we still had Ol’ Faithful, our Team Defence. And Team Defence wins championships.

Congratulations, ladies. You made history the best way possible - TOGETHER!

Season Statistics
Overall Record: 33 wins 6 losses
RSEQ League Play: 11 wins 3 losses
Points for per game: 38.3 Points allowed per game: 28.2
Stanstead Invitational Tournament CHAMPIONS
M.I.S. Tournament CHAMPIONS