Crusaders, Marauders set for tournament action in North Battleford

Avry Bear of the Crusaders goes up for a shot that is contested by Ethan Wandzura of the Marauders in 2019 action. --Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald

The St. Mary Marauders and Carlton Crusaders senior A boys basketball teams travel to North Battleford this weekend for their last tournament before each school goes on Christmas break.

This weekend presents a challenge for Crusaders coach Tom Hazzard, as four of his players have already left for the holidays.

“When we set up our season we never really took into account that our break starts on Friday,” Hazzard said. “We’re heading off a little short staffed. It’ll be interesting this weekend. But we’ve always wanted to play ten games before Christmas to see where we’re at.”

With the bench a little more empty this weekend, Hazzard sees that as a positive, as it gives some of his guys to enjoy more playing time.

“The strength in your team is always strength in numbers,” he said. “If we can gain some more strength from our players that don’t see a lot of court time, that’s going to pay big dividends in the long run.”

The Crusaders were set to play a game against St. Mary earlier this week, but the game was postponed until January. That presented some extra time to practice, and Hazzard explained what his team has been focusing on the most over the last few days.

“We like to really move the ball in transition. We’ve been working a lot on that, but we really need to keep focusing on our defensive play. We’re trying to diminish the number of points we give up. We played some tough teams in Saskatoon last weekend and we were just giving up way too many points to good teams.”

Games this early in the season might leave a team wondering how they stack up against some teams they haven’t played yet, but after last weekend’s showing, Hazzard feels that his team is stacking up well against some tougher competition.

“We played probably three of the top five teams in Saskatoon,” Hazzard added. “It really showed us where we’re at. We played great and it just shows the kids the speed they have to play at and the intensity they have to have on the court. It was fantastic to show where we stand, and how hard we have to work moving forward.”

The St. Mary Marauders will also make the trip to North Battleford this weekend. While the Marauders will be bringing their full team with them, coach Dave Seto has already seen some wear and tear on his bench.

“We’re battling a few injuries right now,” Seto said. “We have some multi sport athletes, so it’s taking it’s toll. They’ve been hit pretty hard over the last three weeks.”

Two tournaments are a small sample size of his group to start the season, but Seto said he’s liked what he’s seen from the team so far.

“We compete hard,” he explained. “I think we’re a good transition team and we shoot the ball well. That’s been our biggest strength. I think our depth has been a good thing. We can go beyond our starters and still win games, and that’s been nice too see as well.”

Seto also noted what he has been focusing on throughout practice this week ahead of the break.

“Usually in December you’re implementing your systems, both offensively and defensively,” he said. “That’s kind of what we’re doing. Every practice is something kind of new and by January we’ll try to refine it. At the same time, conditioning is also a key. You’re trying to get a good base that can carry you through the season.”

While the kids head off for their Christmas break next week, Seto explains the challenge that having a long break has this early into a season. He says it shouldn’t take long for his group to get right back into the swing of things.

“I don’t know if you can ever keep them in shape when they come back,” he laughed. “Each family has their own thing that they do during the break. I know the first practice back there’s a lot of huffing and puffing going on and trying to shed some of those turkey dinners off. We try and have some informal scrimmages during the break but obviously those aren’t mandatory.

“That first day of practice is always tough. But they’re young, so after a couple days in a row of running they’re usually okay coming back.”

This weekend’s tournament in North Battleford marks the third tournament that both Carlton and St. Mary will be playing in so far this season.