After a dominant final game against the Saskatoon Aden Bowman Bears, the Carlton Crusaders senior girls basketball team won their home tournament on Saturday, improving their overall record on the year to 21-6.
“We couldn’t be happier, and not just with the win, but the effort and the fact that every girl got on the court and contributed,” Crusaders head coach Jenn Ferguson said of the team’s 55-36 win over the Bears.
The Crusaders used a dominant, high-pressure press throughout the first half to take and hold the lead early in the tournament final.
Carlton used two players in the Bears’ zone to pressure the team as it tried to move the ball past half court into the offensive zone.
When Aden Bowman did manage to move the ball onto Carlton’s side, the Crusaders’ defence proved stingy enough to prevent any Bears’ baskets through the first four minutes of play. By that point, the Crusaders had built up a 13-0 lead.
They held their lead for the duration of the first half, finishing the first two quarters of play up 35-17 on the Bears.
Point guard Payton Izsak was instrumental in driving the Crusaders’ play on the offensive side of the court. After carrying the ball into Aden Bowman’s zone, she’d often quarterback plays, passing systems and screens to help set up easy hoops for her team.
“She’s an elite level athlete; she’s a soccer player, and she brings the set of skills from the soccer field onto the basketball court. One of those things is her leadership,” Ferguson said. “She’s dominant when she gets the ball in her hands.”
Carlton also found success using its depth.
Ferguson and her coaching staff substituted in five new players at least two different times during the game. Whether starters or bench players were on the court, Carlton continued to hold and add to its lead.
Part of that depth included Carlton’s ability to rotate players into the point guard position. Both Alex Soyko and Gage Grassick showed dominance and control while driving the Crusaders’ offence.
“It’s so good as a starting point guard to know that I do have other players that are just as good as me, that when they come in they’ll do their job and what they need to,” Izsak said of her teammates.
She finished the game with 20 points, while Soyko had four and Grassick had six.
“Our communication on the court was really good and also our help on the bench, too,” Soyko said. “Our team all stuck together and helped each other out the whole time.”
Carlton continued its dominance through the third quarter, after which they were up 46-21. The teams finished the game with Carlton winning 55-36.
Along with Izsak’s determination to win, Ferguson underscored the spark and intensity that Soyko brings to the team.
“(It) always helps the other four players on the court. We seem to be a little flat once in a while, and we just put Alex back on the court, and all of a sudden, the energy level picks up and it makes the other four players better as well.
“There isn’t anyone that works harder than her on the court. And she spends a lot of free time in the gym shooting and working on her game too,” the coach said.
To reach the final game, Carlton first beat Meadow Lake 72-24 on Friday evening, which landed the team a spot in the semifinal against North Battleford. Carlton won that game 70-52 on Saturday at noon to advance to the final.
The win versus Aden Bowman was a bit of a grudge match; through two previous games this season, the teams split them to each go 1-1.
Emerging victorious over their Saskatoon rival was a high point for Soyko.
“(They) didn’t know that we were in their category (5A). They thought we were in 4A; so we just showed them that we’re going to show them up in Hoopla. We’re gonna be there and we’re gonna work; they’re gonna have to work hard to be there with us, too,” she said.
Marauders finish with a win
On the B-side of the tournament, the St. Mary Marauders managed to end on a positive note, beating Meadow Lake 79-40 to finish seventh in the tournament.
The Marauders lost their opening game 60-26 against Aden Bowman on Friday afternoon. That pushed them down to the semifinal for the consolation game, but they couldn’t quite finish off Saskatoon’s Tommy Douglas.
The Saskatoon school won that game 51-47.
Head coach Dwayne Gareau said that the team’s defence did a good job of keeping the Marauders in that game. His team’s shooting percentages for three-point field goals and free throws were well below 50 per cent, he noted.
That set up the St. Mary team for the 7th place game on Saturday afternoon against Meadow Lake.
“I thought we worked together better and our transition was better,” forward Emily Hemsworth said of the Marauders’ win. “We were quick and kept passing, and we were making more of our shots.”
By halftime, St. Mary was up 41-29 on Meadow Lake.
The Marauders continued to hold and build their lead, outscoring their opponents 29-19 in the second half.
The win gives the team a 17-13 record on the year.
“What we were looking to get out of this weekend was a weekend that’s positive, and moving forward to a couple weeks where we can be ready and fine tune for regionals,” Gareau said. “We needed to be shooting well and and on a high note, so hopefully we can build off the momentum from this game, so we have an opportunity to qualify for provincials.”
Hemsworth finished the game with 21 total points, which included a three-point field goal.