The city of Prince Albert will be hosting this year’s rendition of Hoopla, and all four PA high school basketball teams have qualified for the biggest high school basketball tournament in the province of Saskatchewan
The St. Mary Marauders will kick off Hoopla on Thursday evening with the girls tipping off against Swift Current and the boys squaring off with Walter Murray.
The St. Mary Marauder girls punched their ticket to Hoopla with a 78-26 win over North Battle Comp and a close 50-45 victory over the crosstown rival Carlton Crusaders. The Marauders lost in the championship game at regionals to Swift Current 76-44.
Marauder girls head coach Dwayne Gareau says the team is happy to be in the tournament but are looking to advance far into the weekend.
“There’s obviously some excitement. You work towards qualifying for this championship all year, and to have went through last weekend and had a very successful regional championship, there’s that initial excitement. We want to go there and we want to play well.”
The Marauders entered the regional tournament ranked as the third seed and had to face Carlton in their semi final matchup who were ranked as the second seed.
The Marauders were able to walk away with a closely contest 50-45 victory. Gareau says the team had to draw from previous experience to come away with the win.
“We’ve had a number of close games, and I keep telling them that we draw on those experiences so that when we get in that moment again, that we’re ready for the moment. We had built upon that feeling throughout the season. Then we get to regionals and it’s a rivalry. Both teams know each other extremely well. Both teams are very well coached. Both teams have a ton of good talent and good players on each team. It was a close game. It really could have went either way, but it was nice to come out on top.”
St. Mary qualified for Hoopla in 2022 but finished in seventh place out of the eight-team field. Gareau says the Marauders gained valuable experience in the tournament last season and will look to have a deep run in the tournament this year.
“We’re fortunate that last year we qualified for hoopla, so we have a number of veterans that we will lean on who have been in that moment before, even at regionals. A lot of the players that played important minutes for us had been a part of the team [last year], whether they were there and maybe not playing important minutes, but this year they had they had been able to witness it.”
One of the veteran players for the Marauders returning from last season is forward Rylee Mckay, who is in her Grade 12 season. She is looking forward to playing one last tournament with her teammates in her graduating season.
“I’m looking forward to a good last week of practices because it’s my grade 12 year. [It’s my] last season, last high school sport, and I’m just looking forward to spending time with my teammates. It’s just such an amazing group of people this year and everyone’s just so supportive and lovely.”
One aspect that has been a challenge for the Marauder girls this season has been the number of two sport athletes the team features on the roster. Eight of the 12 players on the St. Mary basketball roster are also club volleyball players. As a result, St. Mary has not had a full roster offering for the majority of the season.
Mckay says that St. Mary has an opportunity to do something special at Hoopla with the full roster available.
“It’s just amazing to see what we can accomplish whenever we all group together. I don’t want to say teams underestimate us, but in a sense I think they kind of do because I think they don’t understand that when we really are all together, we all share this same mindset and this really special ability.”
The Marauder girls open up Hoopla on Thursday, Mar. 23 against Swift Current at the St. Mary gymnasium. Tip off is at 6 p.m.
Marauder boys looking to embrace the underdog role
The St. Mary boys basketball team is looking to pull off some upsets this year at Hoopla.
The Marauder boys entered regionals as the number two seed and pulled off victories over Weyburn and Lloydminster to earn their entry into Hoopla. The Marauders lost in the regional championship game to the Carlton Crusaders, who were the number one seed.
Marauder boys head coach David Seto says the competition at Hoopla is going to be fierce.
“If I look at the 5A boys, this is truly the best eight teams here, I think, and the competition is going to be great. If you go and look at some of the rosters, the amount of players that are on Team Saskatchewan and provincial teams, the amount of players that will go on to play USPORTS is tremendous. If you’re looking for the quality of basketball, it’s going to be second to none.
“We’re thrilled for the chance to compete at this level. It’s special to be in Prince Albert. I hope the crowds are big. I think it’s the community is going to be surprised and enjoy the level [of competition] because they’re not going to see a lot of this on a regular basis.”
St. Mary enters Hoopla as the number seven seed and will begin play against second seeded Walter Murray (Saskatoon).
Seto says the Marauders are looking forward to playing Walter Murray and are hoping for an upset.
“We’ve played them before, and they’ve beaten us, and don’t get me wrong, Walter Murray, their ranking speaks for themselves. They got ranked two. They are one of the top teams in Saskatchewan, so we understand that we are the underdogs. We know they’re a good team, but we like some of the match ups. Obviously, they’re not as big as someone like Holy Cross, and I know that we’re not a big team. In terms of that, that might be a good matchup, but we respect Walter Murray.”
The Marauders have home court advantage with their first game being played at the St. Mary gymnasium. Seto says the team isn’t feeling any pressure playing at home.
“We’re already underdogs. We’re not expected to win. We have just got to play loose and have some fun, enjoy the experience and hopefully, we come out and we compete.”
It will be the final high school basketball tournament for Marauder graduating guard Peter Kiunga. He says the team has embraced the underdog mentality.
“We’ve pretty much been the underdog our entire season, especially going into bigger tournaments like in Saskatoon. Regina, I know that we can persevere through if we work together as a team like we have been recently. We were in a lull in midway through the season, but now we’re back out to where we were. I feel confident that if we play the way [coach Seto] wants us to and the way that he has plans for us to defend their team, I feel like we have a strong chance.”
With the Marauders opening the tournament on home court against Walter Murray, Kiunga says the Hoopla environment is something he is looking forward to playing in.
“[I’m looking forward to] the atmosphere for sure. Just because it’s our home court and I know a lot of our families are going to be there. It should be fun. I know we’re going to have lots of support I’m excited for my first hometown hoopla and my last.”
St. Mary begins Hoopla play on Thursday evening against Walter Murray at the St. Mary gymnasium. Tip off is at 8 p.m.