Churchill looks to be Top Dog at BPSN tourney
This a big year for the Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs senior girls basketball team.
“There are a lot of expectations for this group of 10,” Churchill head coach Frank Keltos said. “I say 10 because, even though we only dress nine, Lauren Vanecko as our 10th is trying to get back for our playoff push.”
The Grade 11 student is working her way back from an ACL injury suffered early last season.
“She could be ready by the end of the month, but we will see,” Keltos said.
Churchill’s expectations are based on the pedigree and makeup of its roster.
“They have played at a very high level their whole lives,” Keltos said. “We have Grade 9s and we have Grade 12s but they are all friends. They are like a family.”
Last year, Churchill won the Zone 4 AA title but lost in the Southern Ontario Secondary Schools Association final for the second straight year. This year, the school’s population has increased to make the Bulldogs an AAA school and Keltos has been readying his team against tough teams.
Two weekends ago, the team competed at the Michele Vesprini-Jordan Cancer Research Classic in Hamilton and made it to the semifinals.
“We were banged up, but we beat Westdale in the quarter-finals and they were the triple A champs last year for OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations),” Keltos said. “We beat St. Mary’s and St. Ann’s from Tecumseh and lost to Glebe from Ottawa which is basically their Ottawa JUEL team.”
The Bulldogs have already won the St. Francis tournament locally, but the First BPSN Girls Basketball Tournament is the one Churchill wants to add to the trophy case. Last year, this year’s top seeds won The Standard tournament which is the predecessor of the BPSN event.
“It is the tournament that you look forward to,” Keltos said. “It’s bragging rights for Niagara. I know Notre Dame isn’t in the draw, but it is one of those things where you can say you are the best team in St. Catharines and the surrounding area.
“It’s not the whole area but it’s normally 95 per cent of the best teams.”
It’s the tournament his players want to win.
“It’s one of my favourite tournaments to be in with my team,” Churchill co-captain Kaley DeMont said. “It’s one you are always looking forward to. When it’s done, I am looking forward to next year because it is such a fun tournament to be in.”
The tournament’s format is the same as the event that has run for two decades in the same time period.
“Even with the name change, it’s still the big tournament because you (Bernie Puchalski) and Bill (Potrecz) have done such a great job over the years of making the players feel like they are professionals.”
The tournament has alway been a week-long celebration of girls basketball with plenty of media coverage and every scorer in every game getting mentioned in the writeup.
“It’s one game every night and it allows parents to come and watch and the kids get into it starting with the buyouts on Tuesday,” Keltos said. “Then you have the PD day final on the Friday of Thanksgiving and the graduating kids come home and are able to be there and watch.
“Last year, we had a lot of graduating kids that were down to watch us win and we have a whole bunch who want to watch us win again.”
Keltos is confident, but not overconfident going into the BPSN tourney.
“We’re confident in the way we are playing and what we are capable of but at the end of the day everyone wants to take us down,” he said. “We played Eden in the St. Francis tournament, we played Crossley and they were missing some of their really key players and we know that.”
The BPSN title is one of many items on DeMont’s to do list.
“I want to win hopefully everything and go to OFSAA and I want to play well with my teammates,” the 17-year-old said. “It’s important to me because I also play with them outside of school.”
The Grade 12 guard feels the Bulldogs have the right mix to get things done at the BPSN tourney and beyond.
“We are all very strong and we are capable of playing as a team and getting over that hump (SOSAA) because we all want it and we are all striving to go to OFSAA.”
Depth will play a key role in the team reaching its goals.
“Even if someone is fouled out or not having a good game, we have nine other girls that we can count on,” DeMont said. “Every girl can play.”
DeMont would love to end her high school career on a high note before she chooses which post secondary institution and basketball team that will be her home for the next four seasons.
“I’m not leaning anywhere at the moment,” she said. “I am still trying to figure out what I want to do.”
Her ultimate decision will be based on which school has an academic program that she wants to study.
The First BPSN Girls Basketball Tournament has been made possible thanks to the generous support of: Tora Inc: Niagara Rangers; No Limit Performance: St. Catharines Rebels in recognition of all their volunteers who make the organization a success; Niagara Falls Red Raiders; Alltech Automotive; Niagara District Referees Association; Brock University women’s basketball program; Pelham Panthers; Alison’s Sports Awards and Promotions; and, the Niagara College women’s basketball program.