Crusaders counter Chargers for Hoopla 5A bronze

Carlton Crusaders point guard Payton Izsak drives the net for a layup against the Saskatoon Centennial Chargers during the Hoopla 5A bronze medal game on March 24, 2018 from Prince Albert. --Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Powered by their stingy defence and their coach who preached composure over aggression, the Carlton Crusaders girls basketball team captured Hoopla 5A bronze Saturday afternoon in Prince Albert.

The Crusaders beat the Saskatoon Centennial Charges 81-67 for the win, earning their second Hoopla bronze in three years.

“Composure was critical today; (we) did a really good job. That’s a really tough team – they’re physical and they battle hard for rebounds, and they’ve obviously got a couple of exceptional players,” Carlton head coach Jenn Freguson said.

One of those exceptional players is gritty, hard-nosed Kaitlin Jockims, who was a driving force in her team’s physicality. The grade 10 guard only finished with 12 points, but her speed and her willingness to make a play – offensively and defensively – often lit a fire for the Chargers in mounting comeback attempts.

“She’s a phenomenal athlete, and I would say one of the best players in Saskatchewan, as a grade 10 player,” Centennial head coach Julene Hillis said of Jockims.

Centennial Charges player Kaitlin Jockims (12) dribbles the ball up court against the Carlton Crusaders during the Hoopla 5A bronze medal game on March 24, 2018 from Prince Albert. –Evan Radford/Daily Herald

The Crusaders countered those attempts using a toolbox of different weapons, depending on what a given part of the game called for.

“We just kept finding ways to answer back,” Ferguson said. “I think we got a little in their heads and worked them over that way, and it affected the outcome of the game.”

Grade 10 Carlton guard Gage Grassick was one such example of that; she had 10 steals spread out over the entirety of the game, eight of which were highlight-reel worthy.

When the Crusaders set up their defensive press as the Chargers advanced up court, Grassick successfully timed her run-and-jumps to leap in front of passes, intercepting them mid-air and turning the ball the other way for fast-break, scoring opportunities. It got to the point where Centennial’s guards were signalling to their point guard not to pass to them if Grassick was nearby.

“We try to change up what we’re doing defensively as often as we can, so that (opponents) have to recognize what’s happening,” Ferguson said, explaining that her team used a modified-zone defensive system; four players stuck to a zone defence, while a single player went man-to-man against the Chargers’ top scorer.

Grassick also finished the game with 19 points, which included three three-point field goals. She was part of an offence that had shooting and rebounding success throughout the game, whether it was she or one of her teammates who had to pitch in with points.

Such was the case for grade 12 point guard Payton Izsack: She scored 28 points and created two steals in the defensive zone.

“Everyone on our team knows that they have a role to play,” Izsack said. “Driving to the net is mine. So when (an opponent) is in foul trouble, it’s a key point to start driving to get their posts or others to foul us, so that we can get them out of the game.”

It was also Izsack’s willingness to sacrifice herself in the defensive zone that helped her team to the win.

Carlton Crusaders point guard Payton Izsak (10) defends Centennial Chargers player Camryn Ellis (11) during the Hoopla 5A bronze medal game on March 24, 2018 from Prince Albert. –Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Late in the fourth quarter, she drew Jockims into a charge foul, which was the Charger’s fifth foul of the game, removing her from play. “That was tough, too, having her fouled out,” Hillis said.

Ferguson said the play was indicative of Izsack’s heart.

“In January, that girl took a charge against Payton and actually knocked her out for a month with a concussion. So for Gage to step in once, and Payton to step in once, that’s the kind of heart they have. It’s a hard thing to do when she’s going that hard at the basket.”

The Crusaders held the lead for the entirety of the game, but they had to work to extend it. After a quarter they were up by five points, and at halftime they were up by nine points.

The Charges kept it close in the third, ensuring the Crusaders didn’t push their lead past nine points.

In the final quarter, aggression and composure became more prevalent factors. Three Chargers took four total personal fouls, including Jockims taking her fourth and fifth fouls; the Crusaders had no personal fouls in the final frame, and only two personal fouls in the entire second half.

Along with a pair of threes from Grassick, Carlton’s offence was powered by grade 12 post Mackenzie Emmerson in the final quarter: She scored eight points to help her team extend its lead and emerge with the 81-67 win.

The Carlton Crusaders pose for a photo with their medals after winning the Hoopla 2018 5A bronze medal game against the the Saskatoon Centennial Chargers on March 24, 2018 from Prince Albert. –Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Reflecting on the win, Emmerson said, “The biggest thing is we were so disappointed yesterday (after losing a chance to play for gold), but we came back today and still treated it like it was our last game, so we put everything out there. In a bad situation, we came out on top and made it exciting.”

For her and fellow Grade 12 co-captain Izsack, Saturday was their last game with the current crop of Crusaders. They agreed it’s sad the group will no longer play together; but they’re excited to see where the returning players will take the team next year.

Of Carlton’s 11 players on its roster, only three are in grade 12, while six are in grade 10. “They can not only make it to Hoopla next year, but do well,” Emmerson said. “They’re good now, but they can get so much better, too.”