Crusaders amped up ahead of first basketball tournament of the season

The Crusaders stand around coach Tom Hazzard as he explains a drill in practice. The Crusaders kick off the Senior Boys basketball season their home tournament this weekend. --Kyle Kosowan/Daily Herald

December of 2021 marks a fresh start for the Carlton senior boys basketball team. After 2020’s season was washed out due to COVID-19, the Crusaders are all systems go, and are ready to make their mark this season.

Tom Hazzard was named coach of the team, and while this is his first season with the Crusaders, he is confident that the team will have success, despite his kids being away from competitive basketball for nearly two years.

“I find the biggest thing with kids getting back into the game is that you can really see the difference between some of the kids that kept with the game a little bit, and those that didn’t,” Hazzard said. “It really separated some kids from others.”

Hazzard spent years coaching in Meath Park and Kinistino, and brings quite the resume with him, after winning eight provincial championships in his coaching tenure. Now stepping up from the 2A level to 5A, he explained the biggest difference.

“Moving up from 2A to 5A, first of all the vastness of the players you have is different,” he said. “You have to separate skill and talent from a number of other things with your athletes that you’re trying to find and to solve.”

The Crusaders 2019 season came to an end at the 5A boys regional tournament in Yorkton. They defeated their rival St. Mary Marauders in the quarter final matchup, advancing them to the semi finals against Lloyminster, but fell 94-84, ending their season. Only the top two teams from the tournament (Lloydminster and Estevan) moved on to provincials, which was won by Regina Leboldus.

The Crusaders have two grade 12 players on the team, Max Simpson and Quinn Helgason. The rest are grade 11’s who were in grade 9 the last time a basketball season was played. With little to no experience playing senior high school basketball, Simpson explained the process through tryouts, and how it helped to form the team.

“Tryouts were tough,” Simpson said. “Things are a lot different after COVID-19 with how it was before and now after. I don’t really know what to expect with who’s got what on this team yet, but I’m excited. We’re good, and I think we’re going to do some damage.”

Simpson was relieved when he found out he got to spend his grade 12 season on the senior A team, after being cut from the team in his grade 10 year.

“It means everything,” he said. “I didn’t know if I would get to play basketball at all. At one point I didn’t think I would make the senior team. It’s just awesome that I can play on the team now.”

For Helgason, it’s exciting to spend his grade 12 season playing on the senior team, but he found it more important to share the moment with Simpson.

“I was really hoping to get one more season,” Helgason said. “Obviously we missed out, so Max and I are just really glad to have the opportunity to go out there and play one more time, especially at this level. It’s an honour to be a part of the team.”

The Crusaders kick off their season with a home tournament this weekend, and Helgason said his team has a winning mindset already.

“For all the fans, it’s going to be great just to see us back out there playing. It’s our home tournament so it’s going to be such a good start to the season. The boys are looking forward to hopefully taking home the gold.”