Lasalle favoured in Sudbury, but eyeing elusive northern crown
Taking a quick glance at the Northern Ontario Secondary School Athletics (NOSSA) high school boys basketball championships, the results are absolutely startling — not a single local entry has captured a AA or AAA banner in the past seven years.
One has to go back to the 2006 Lasalle Secondary boys team to find a Sudbury entry to OFSAA in this grouping, with the Lancers making three straight treks to AAA provincials. On the AA side, one has to look back to the 1977 Lively Hawks to find a Northern Ontario champion coming out of the Nickel City.
It's a trend the current group of Lasalle Lancers want to bring to an end immediately.
The 2013-2014 squad will enter the playoffs this week as favourites to capture the city crown, with the "Lancerdome" slated as the host venue for NOSSA's AA championship game Feb. 22.
With back-to-back losses in the grand finale, the current wave of Lasalle hardcourt talent is fixated on reversing the trend.
"We definitely have worked harder to get to our goal this year more than other years," said veteran Alex Mobbs, now in his third year with the team. "The fifth-year guys have lost the past couple of NOSSA finals and that has driven us even more this year."
Coach Kyle Beers is in his second year guiding the senior crew.
He brings an interesting background to the NOSSA landscape, which has been heavily tilted in favour of Sault Ste Marie schools.
"A lot of the boys in the Soo are also big time football players, which often means that they are big time into the weights," Beers stated.
"They're big inside and they can shoot outside. They have strong, really dedicated coaches there. I was privileged enough to play for some of them during my time at Algoma," he added.
Yet, there is a definite sense things could be different this year. In part, this is due to the mix of talent in the Lancer lineup, blending experienced leadership with upcoming talent.
That second wave is led by guard Noah LaPierre, already establishing himself as one of the best guards in Northern Ontario, despite just completing his second year at Lasalle. For an underage player thrust into a front and centre role, the setting can prove challenging.
If LaPierre has handled the situation well, it's thanks in large part to the support of his senior teammates.
"They made me feel like one of the guys right away," LaPierre said. "They showed a lot of confidence in me. It's fun to play with them."
Thanks to a boatload of tournament experience, much of it facing top-end Ontario talent, the Lancers know what they need to do to go up against the province's best.
"When we work hard, when everyone is locked in, when everything is clicking, we can compete with the best AA teams in Ontario," said LaPierre.
Veteran Mobbs said state of mind is key.
"We need to focus on keeping calm and relaxing on the court," added Mobbs.
But there is one common thread on the Lancers that might be biggest factor of all — the chemistry and friendship this year's players feel.
That's apparent to newcomer Kurtis Brisebois, the Lancer's Grade 11 three-point specialist.
"All of us hang around all the time, we do everything together," said the 16-year-old. “You can see it when we're out on the court."
While the Lancers are focused on retaining the SDSSAA banner, the players can't help but think about what should be an exceptional NOSSA final. There's a strong likelihood the Lancers will meet either Korah or St. Basil's on the horizon.
Coach Beers, for one, has given it some thought.
"Both teams are exceptional shooting teams, so we have to close out on shooters quickly," he noted. "We have to do a really good job of cleaning up the glass."
And, like the players in his stead, Beers hopes to see the fruits of many hours of dedicated labour.
"These guys play hard for each other and hard for the coaching staff," he said. "It's nice to be able to sit back and let them play a little bit more this year."