Top Dogs will be hard to topple
Any senior girls basketball team looking to dethrone the Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs as the top squad in Niagara is going to have its work cut out for itself.
“We are returning all five of our starters,” Churchill head coach Frank Keltos said.
Those five starters, Megan Barker, Brookelyn Keltos, Yemi Oladipo, Kate Smyth and Samantha Cormier, helped propel the Bulldogs to a bronze medal last fall at the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AAA championships.
This year, Churchill will be vying for a provincial AA crown.
“We are a double A school this year which was a surprise to me and a surprise to a lot of other double A schools who were asking whether we were going to declare up or not,” Keltos said. “We have played triple A for years and we have been to OFSAA and been competitive but we want to get to the gold medal game and win one.”
Competing at the AA level is anything but a step down.
“The double A circuit is pretty competitive and there is a ton more double A competitive teams than triple A,” he said. “In triple A, the top six are really, really good and I think we are a really, really good team no matter what level we play in in Ontario.”
Churchill got its season off to a great start at the Western tournament. The Bulldogs defeated Catholic Central from London, Sarnia Northern and St. Thomas More from Hamilton before losing to Hamilton Cathedral in the final.
“It all came down to the first five minutes of the game. They got an 18-point lead and we lost by 20,” Keltos said. “We were also missing our starting point guard and we got a bit tired.”
In last year’s OFSAA AAA semifinals, Cathedral thumped Churchill.
“They came out at OFSAA last year, hit on all cylinders and we didn’t really have an answer. Playing them this weekend, we left off where they did and we let them take control in the first quarter,” he said. “We didn’t let that happen in the next three and we learned if we play the game like we did from the second quarter on, we win by 10 points. We were the better team for three quarters.”
The start was rough as Churchill turned ball over four or five straight times and Cathedral scored 10-12 points off the turnovers.
“We were shell-shocked and exhausted. The game can’t be played defending all the time. It was a good game to lose.”
It was an eye-opening start for Churchill.
“The girls realize how good we are and how special this season could be. They are ready to compete every minute of when we practice and they will be ready to play every game,” Keltos said. “I am excited for the girls and I have put together a good schedule.”
That schedule includes the Michele Vesprini-Jordan Cancer Research Classic, the Thomas More tournament and the Second Annual BPSN Girls Basketball Tournament.
“Our goal this year is we want to be the best team in Niagara, we want to be the best team in SOSSA (Southern Ontario Secondary Schools Association) and we want to go to OFSAA to compete and play and see what happens,” he said.
Brookelyn Keltos, a Grade 12 student, is excited about the season.
“This year we are double A and I hope we can pull off an OFSAA medal again. I am looking forward to that,” the 5-foot-10 player said. “We are getting better and hopefully by the end of the year we will be even better.”
The team’s performance at the Western tourney gave Brookelyn high hopes for the season.
“It was very motivating for us and this year our standards are just high. Everyone is excited to be back on the team after how well we did last year.”
The Niagara JUEL travel player enjoys high school ball.
“I would say it has the same importance as our JUEL season. Our team is pretty strong so it is still a good basketball team to play with. All the girls are very competitive and it’s a nice team.”
She is working hard to prepare for the post secondary level but is not consumed with that desire.
“That is not really in my head when I am playing. I play to the best I can play each game and I play for my team.”
She knows she has facets of her game that still need refining.
“I want to work on my leadership skills. We have a lot of young players that are called up from junior. I want to show them the way and make them feel like they are a part of our team.”
Frank Keltos likes how his daughter is progressing.
“This weekend (Western tourney), she learned that she can compete against the best players and you have to play every possession. You can’t give up on a possession because everyone matters. Every game has to be like you are playing against Cathedral and you can’t take any game easy.”