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SG Basketball: View from The Top of the Hill

By Erik Van Dyke
Game #1 vs Rothesay Netherwood School
First game of 2023. The lights turn off, music starts playing, and RNS sprints into the gym from the hallway outside. The stands, packed with the RNS student body, look like a concert with everyone holding their cellphone lights out. After warmup, the starting lineups get officially introduced, and each announced starter shakes the opposing coach’s hand and, amidst the cheers, runs out to centre court.
Yeah, this was already special.
And intense. And loud! The crowd roared with every Riverhawks basket, and trust me, there were a LOT of Riverhawks baskets. Their top two players - #4 and #21 – proved unstoppable the entire game (22 and 36! pts respectively), and the rest of the team was fast and disciplined and seemed to never miss an open jumper or a chance to finish inside.
All of this made for a tough environment for your Stanstead Spartans. Especially considering that we hadn’t played a game since November and had the bad hands and poor finishing to prove it. Could we ultimately match up with their starting lineup and give them an even match? Not really. But I AM proud of our resilience. No matter how far we would fall behind to their starters, when Rothesay rested their dynamic duo our girls would dig in and claw their way back into the game. This ebb and flow happened three times in the first half alone, and thanks to a final push before halftime we were only down 5 going into the third quarter.
Unfortunately, things got away from us defensively from that point on, and we ended up allowing the most points in recent memory in the 78-54 loss (in New Brunswick games are 40 min, not 32, but still!). But like all losses to good teams, lessons were learned (or re-learned). Specifically, THREE critical lessons:
1)  man to man defence doesn’t play itself, it requires intense focus and effort every possession
2)  every rebound is your rebound to fight for, not your teammate’s rebound, YOUR rebound
3)  we have to sprint back on defence (fast breaks killed us), and look for threats while sprinting
It wasn’t all bad, though, because 54 pts scored ain’t too shabby (in New Brunswick games are 40 min, not 32, but still…). We created tons of good looks, moved the ball, hit some tough shots, and most importantly it was the best we’d played through the low post all season, as Hayley caused her defender so many problems that they had to start sending double teams at her right away whenever she caught the ball.
Game #2 vs St. Stephen’s School
78. That was the number. That’s what we gave up in the opener. 78. So the focus in this game – against a team so good that they would ultimately beat RNS and win the tournament – was to decrease that number. If we focused on the three critical lessons above, how much lower could we go?
How about 20 pts lower? We worked so much harder AND smarter this game. Intense on-ball defence, intelligent help, and hungrier rebounding from pretty much every single player. So good, in fact, that we played them pretty evenly for all four quarters. What sabotaged our chances of potentially pulling off the upset? 11 for 62 from the field, including 13(!) missed layups. Ouch. We make those bunnies, and the game would’ve finished a lot closer than 58-32. And yeah, I said it:  11 for 62 – own it, ladies!
Game #3 vs RNS
This would be a “friendly,” as St. Stephen’s had already won the tourney by this point, and friendlies usually aren’t that exciting, but this one turned into one of the games of the year for your Spartans. After a horrendous start where we fell behind 10-0, we clawed back to tie the game at halftime. And then one of my favourite halves of basketball EVER happened…
  • because we dove on the floor at least 12 times
  • because we locked down and allowed only 5 pts in the fourth quarter
  • because, down 1 with 30 sec left, when we HAD to get the ball back, we forced a 5-sec violation on our opponent’s inbound pass
  • because, down 1 with 19 sec left, when we HAD to get the ball back, we forced a turnover on their inbound pass
  • because, down 1 with 15 sec left, we intelligently fouled to force free throws and get the ball back
  • because, down 3 with 5 sec left, Sara did the exact right thing and at the buzzer launched a desperation three that was on line…but just too strong (almost a Coach Carter moment there!). Final score 28-31.
  • but most of all this was one of my favourite halves of basketball ever because, for the entire second half, EVERY player on that floor was fully in the moment, laser-focused, off-the-charts intense, primed and ready to give everything she had on every play, with their teammates on the bench urging them on. It was phenomenal. It was a joy and a privilege to coach. I loved it SO MUCH. That half is why we play sports.
Memorable Plays
  • Siena’s deep three-pointer, her first since her comeback
  • Camryn’s three, the first of her life?
  • the first time Slicky worked perfectly
  • Emilia’s perfect post-denial steal 
  • Sara’s buzzer beater 3
And the best loose ball I’ve ever seen when Camryn, having already dived on the floor, somehow swam over and stole the ball from a player a full six feet away from her (my description does NOT do it justice, you had to see it to believe it, my shoulder pops out just thinking about it)
Standout Performances
  • Game #1:  Camryn Moore, who played with fearless hustle from the opening whistle (and actually never stopped until the final buzzer of Game #3)
  • Game #2:  Bernadette von Campenhausen, who, in only her third month of basketball, finished with 10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, and drew 2 fouls on St. Stephen’s. I can’t wait for the next episode of The Bernie Show.
  • Game #3:  Henni Kraushaar, who started slow in the tournament, but found her form in the final game with 8 points and 10 rebounds.
Most Improved Player: Gloria Riddell, who turned a corner this weekend. Disruptive on defence and more poised on offence – I like where Gloria is trending.
And last but not least, the Player Of The Tournament goes to Sara Paquette. Not only did Sara “Buckets” pace her team with 33 points over the three games, she also corralled 18 rebounds and ran the offence as the primary point guard (NOT her natural position), all while leading her team in minutes played – including not coming off the floor at all vs St. Stephen’s, i.e. 40 minutes without a single sub. No wonder she spent the rest of the weekend with that foam roller! J
All in all, this was our first invite to The Top of the Hill Tournament, and I want to thank our fantastic hosts for such a great experience. We’re a better basketball team than three days ago, and we’re a closer team. That’s what 20 hours on a bus can do, especially when you add in a hotel pool and hot tub, a team supper, cheering on our boys, our boys cheering US on, cards on the bus, an escape room, Coach Carter, Hoosiers, Camp Rock, and, of course, Lam Wang’s dad!
Great trip, ladies – see you on Monday!
 - Coaches VD & W