Big game Pantheres will build on this experience
by Randy Pascal
The Macdonald-Cartier Panthères senior girls basketball team have some serious big game moxie.
Earlier this year, the team upset the Collège Notre-Dame Alouettes to capture the Franco Tournament in Brockville.
More recently, the relatively young squad overcame a 51-34 loss to the Korah Colts in their opening game at the NOSSA "AA" Championships,
bouncing back to upend the Sault Ste Marie representatives 46-43 in the final.
And while an 0-3 record at the OFSAA Tournament in Windsor may have been a tad disapointing, the reality is that the squad will return the bulk
of their starting roster next year, including 16 year-old grade 11 first year senior Clara Yanchuk.
"Honestly, it was a shocking thing that we won NOSSA," she said. "We improved so much this year. I remember our first game against St Ben's - we weren't
really sure about our plays, how to run them. We've learned a lot of plays since then."
After scoring eight points in the NOSSA loss to Korah (Ariane Saumure led ESMC with nine), Yanchuk added another 11 points in the final, while
Arielle Douillette exploded for 18 and Saumure chipped in with another nine.
The key for Macdonald-Cartier, however, came down to slowing Colts' sensation Tori Ivey, who lit it up for 24 points in game one, but was
limited to just five in the rematch.
"We changed our game plan versus Korah," conceded Yanchuk. "We were playing man to man when we lost. We did a "box one" in the final. We were forcing
them to shoot, and luckily, their shots weren't dropping that game."
Blessed with a young roster that included the club basketball talents of Yanchuk, Saumure and Douillette, combined with the veteran presence of Lina
Audet and Alexis Bélanger, and some size in the paint in the form of Samantha McGrath and Megan Hicks, Panthères head coach
Sebastien Gervais was looking for good things, right out of the gate, with this crew.
"Based on the girls that showed up at tryouts, I thought that a deep enough playoff run was worthwhile," he said. "Knowing the history of basketball in
the city, knowing some of the girls that are playing on other teams, you kind of get a pretty good idea of who is going to be strong."
"I thought we would definitely be top four," Gervais continued. "It was a nice little progression over the course of the year to see them come
together." More than anything, the success of Macdonald-Cartier would come down to the ability to blend together a nice cross-section of very natural
talent on a highly athletic team.
"It's always tough when you're putting together a group of girls that play club, and putting them with a group of girls who unfortunately don't play
club," said Gervais. "You've got girls that are playing year-round paired up with girls that are playing two months out of the year."
"We identified one of our biggest weaknesses, blocking out and rebounding. It's finding, locating and putting a body on the other girl to get the rebound.
We worked a lot on that. Also, ending the possession for the other team with the rebound, it was a matter of pushing it up and utilizing the incredible
speed that we have - and then it's just the focus to finish."
Thankfully, his team really bought in, creating a very positive learning environment. "I found that the girls that have a lot of experience were
helping the girls who don't have as much, helping elevate their games," he said. "They are giving them confidence and hope."
With the likes of Saumure and Douillette only in grade ten, hope should spring eternal, as the Panthères expand their boundaries. "I want the girls to
enjoy the experience, I want them to see what good basketball is, and there's going to be some at OFSAA, for sure," said Gervais, before his team left for
Facing the #3 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish from Burlington in game one, the SDSSAA reps kept it close, dropping a 50-44 decision as Saumure
dropped in 17 points. The multi-sport talent would ramp it up even more, scoring 23 in game two as the Prince Edward Panthers from Picton edged
Bumped into the consolation bracket, the locals drew an unlucky break, meeting up with the #5 seeded Stephen Leacock Lions of Scarborough,
eliminated with a 56-45 loss.
The 2016 Panthères roster also included Kendra Roy, Tara Petitclerk, Sophie Laforest and Megan Paquet.