Following an undefeated streak through the Feb. 27 to March 1 Yellowknife Senior Cager basketball tournament, the boys squad edged out the favourite École St. Patrick High School 46-37 to be named 2019-2020 territorial champions.
“They wanted the banner and worked hard for it since the start of October,” said coach Stephanie Parkes. “Some of these kids also had to work hard in school just to travel. It was a good motivator.”
Showing off their skills, the Eagles swept all 10 teams during the round robin then marched straight to the final after enjoying a bye in the quarter final.
For a group that has put close to five years into their game, the championship tasted just that much sweeter. Parkes noted the team almost got ahead of themselves in the final when they were up and started letting their guard down, but they smartened up in time to keep the lead.
Defeating the St. Pats is a point of pride for the Eagles.
“They usually win, so they were the biggest competition,” she said. “We were up by 21 at one point, but they closed the gap in the second quarter. We had a bunch of other teams from Inuvik and they were all at the final game. They had pompoms and streamers and confetti, we kind of ran them out of their own gym. Normally the Yellowknife fans are overwhelming, but we just took over.
“The tournament organizers said they’d never seen a celebration like this.”
Meanwhile, the U19 Eagles were stopped short of their championship run in the semifinals and will graduate five players at the end of the year, though Parkes said with the young champions moving up there would be good days ahead for Inuvik basketball.
Part of the secret to the boys success has been playing in leagues significantly above their age, height and experience level, which has dramatically improved the U15’s game.
“We had played in the Inuvik tournament against men, so we had some experience playing with older kids, then we went to Whitehorse and played against senior teams,” she said. “So aside from being in the gym four or five nights a week, I think we were pretty confident.”
For Parkes, seeing the boys take the championship was special, having trained the core group for several years.
“Every year we’ve lost either in the semifinal or the final, so we were pretty stoked going into the final,” she said, adding three of the players were selected to try out for the NWT at an upcoming tournament in Halifax. “Yellowknife is sending a U16 team to the Northern Aboriginal Games, and three of our guys are a shoe-in for the try-outs.
“I’m not sure when those will happen right now, but we’re hoping that when this all clears up we’ll still have try-outs in July.”