Hoopla 2018: stories to watch

Campbell Tartans centre JC Ishemezwe (8) attempts to grab the jump-ball for tip-off at the opening game for Hoopla 2018 at Prince Albert’s Carlton high school. Ishemezwe and the Tartans squared off against the Saskatoon Marion Graham Falcons in the boys 5A division.(Evan Radford/Daily Herald)

Teams from across Saskatchewan have gathered in P.A. for the province’s annual high school basketball championship. According to the Saskatcehwan High Schools Athletic Association, here are some of the stories to watch at Hoopla 2018.

Avenging defeat

The Three Lakes School Avengers out of Middle Lake have won gold or silver every year in the 1A tournament since 2013. With the exception of the 2016 tournament where they defeated Fillmore, their opponents have been the Kenaston Kodiaks. Kenaston took out Three Lakes last year, ending Middle Lake’s streak of three straight titles. If both teams win their first round games against St. Brieux and Gladmar, they’ll face off again for the sixth time in seven years. When Kenaston defeated Three Lakes in 2013, it started Middle Lake’s three-peat championship run. Could history repeat itself?

Championship faceoff

On the boys’ side, Three Lakes is the 1A defending champion. Last year they knocked off Rocanville to take the crown. But first, they have to get through the team that took home the 2016 title, the Davidson Raiders. Davidson could prove a challenge with their size – they have seven kids over six feet in height, with three measuring six-foot-four.

Winning coach returns

The Harvest City Christian Academy Boys from Regina put together a string of six straight provincial wins from 2007-2012 under coach Joel Wells. He stepped away from the game for a bit, but now, with his daughter Eden playing on the girls’ side, he’s back behind the bench coaching the girls to a 2A Hoopla berth. With Eden playing in her Grade 9 year and a potential three more years of basketball ahead of her, it could be the start of a new Joel Wells-coached Harvest City Reaper dynasty.

Open field

It’s common for past winners to return to Hoopla, but in the case of the 2A boys tournament, there will be no title defence this year. Neither Maidstone nor Saskatoon École Canadienne qualified, meaning last year’s gold and silver medal winners are out. The Saskatoon school also won in 2016, meaning this year’s winner will be different for the first time since 2015. That year, St. Brieux won, and they’ve qualified again. They are real contenders, making the silver medal game in 2016.

David vs. Goliath

The Dalmeny girls have made it to the Hoopla tournament for the first time in school history. They open their 3A tournament against Regina Christian, the school that’s looked dominant all reason. They won silver last year and will be looking to upgrade to gold in 2018. Joining those two teams in the tournament are Lumsden, which wasn’t considered favourites in the beginning of the season, going through a rebuilding year. They’ll be after the team’s third straight title. Caronport, the 2014 and 2015 winners in this tournament, rounds out the group of three powerhouses and one newcomer.

Seventh heaven

Birch Hills had made six consecutive Hoopla appearances coming into this year’s tournament, but the team hasn’t won gold since 1997. The boys will be extra motivated coming into the 3A tournament, playing in front of friends and family in this P.A. tournament held only 30 minutes down the road from their school. They’ll start the tournament against Norquay, making its first appearance in years. On the other side of the bracket is Regina Christian, the defending 2017 champs who won their city’s small schools tournament this year.

Familiar foes

The 4A boys tournament sees three teams that know each other going head to head to head. It’s guaranteed a team from Moose Jaw will make the finals, as Central, Vanier and Peacock, all from the friendly city, each qualified for this year’s tournament. Peacock is a perennial favourite while Vanier snuck in. But if a Moose Jaw team wants to win it all, it will have to knock off defending champions Weyburn, who also won silver in 2016. If any of the athletes also spend the fall on the gridiron, they’ll see some familiar faces – Weyburn plays in the Moose Jaw High School Football League.

Defending a title on home turf

Melfort surprised everybody and won the 4A girls title last year. They’ll be looking to repeat in 2018 in front of hometown friends and family making the one-hour drive to Prince Albert. This division may be the most hotly contested, with Melfort, Moose Jaw Central, Peacock and Estevan facing off. Peacock has gone to the finals five straight years, coming away with three golds and two silvers. Estevan, meanwhile doesn’t have much of a recent history in this division, as they were at one point classified as a 5A school

Big city brawl

The boys 5A tournament features some of the powerhouses from the largest high schools in the province. North Battleford earned a berth to this year’s contest, knocking off St. Mary by 50 points and beating Estevan, the team that knocked out Carlton in the rural tournament.

They’re a talented team, but could run into some difficulties against powerhouses like Regina’s LeBoldus, which has medalled every year since 2013, and Saskatoon’s St. Joseph, ranked number 1 coming in.

Regina’s Winston Knoll is also strong, returning for the first time since 2006. In 2001, the team won a medal under coach Steve Burrows, the current head coach of the Regina Cougars

Home, sweet home

A school outside of Regina or Saskatoon hasn’t won a Hoopla gold or silver since 2006, but the Carlton Crusaders girls are looking to buck that trend at home. Their bracket is highly competitive, with no clear favourite, though the Crusaders have been dominant this year. Saskatoon’s Centennial Collegiate could threaten for gold, winning silver last year and returning many of the same players. They’ll be hungry for more.