Nicholson Crusaders capture OFSAA basketball silver medal

Pictured members of the Nicholson Catholic College Crusaders are: (front, from left) Anna Walsh, Grace LaCroix, Madison Lees, Chloe Knapp; (back, from left) Brynne Barrett, Courtney Lambert, Kira Fiar, Charlotte Farrell, Sarah Paul and Evelyn Shakell.

Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Quinte

Belleville’s Nicholson Catholic College Crusaders captured the silver medal at the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) girls ‘A’ basketball championship in Smithville this past weekend.

Nicholson was defeated 43-24 by the host Smithville Christian Storm, which used their size and athleticism to their advantage, in Saturday afternoon’s championship game.

“They played a 1-3-1 zone defence the entire game and that just gave us trouble,” said Justin Walsh, the assistant coach to Nicholson head coach Tim Coates. “Trying to get the ball into spots we needed to was difficult. We did have some pretty good open looks in the second half to try to cut into their lead, but we just didn’t shoot the ball well enough and after awhile that kind of frustrates you and they took advantage of our turnovers.”

Nicholson, which went 3-1 in pool play to finish atop the Group A standings, opened the 10-team OFSAA tournament Thursday with victories of 45-41 over Walkerton and 58-39 over the University of Toronto Schools and won their third straight Friday afternoon 63-33 against Hamilton District Christian High School.

Friday evening, the Crusaders suffered a setback with a narrow 40-34 loss to Sudbury’s College Notre-Dame.

Walsh said the Crusaders earned wins over strong competition during the course of three days, including Saturday morning’s semifinal contest against Roland Michener Secondary from South Porcupine near Timmins.

“They struggled against our half-court zone pressure so we turned them over early and got some easy buckets so we were up early,” said Walsh, noting Roland Michener had two key players for the Crusaders to contend with and they “started chipping away at us in the second half so we changed our defence to take away one of their options.”

Nicholson ultimately prevailed 43-37, but had some extra breathing room late in the contest.

“Kira Fair had a big layup with less than two minutes in the fourth to stretch the lead to eight and then she made a free throw to make it nine and we were more comfortable then after she did that,” Walsh said.

Prior to OFSAA, Nicholson received a big boost when point guard Madison Lees returned to the lineup after injuring her knee earlier in the season.

“Having her back helped solidify our rotation and substitution patterns,” Walsh said. “Players could play positions they were more comfortable in when she returned, so that was big for us.”

Walsh praised Sarah Paul, a Grade 11 guard, for her outstanding OFSAA tournament.

“Her defence, her speed, her offence, everything was just elevated,” he said. “She was our team MVP for the tournament, for sure. She probably averaged about 14 points a game for us, but then really did a job at the defensive end, too.”

Grade 12 students Brynne Barrett and Kira Fair provided some great skill and leadership on the court.

“They both went to OFSAA in Grade 10 when Nicholson travelled to Welland so that experience helped a little bit being there before and what to expect with playing a lot of basketball over three days,” Walsh said. “They both helped our younger players figure it out.”

This was a different kind of season with just a five-game league schedule before the Bay of Quinte and Central Ontario Secondary School Athletics playoffs, but it was certainly welcomed after a year without high school sports.

“We weren’t able to have tournaments or anything, but just the fact we were able to get back in the gym, get a team together and participate was huge. The morale at the school for all the teams getting back was great,” Walsh said.

“It took awhile to gel, but the girls came together as a squad towards the end of the regular season and into playoffs and we just sort of hit our stride at OFSAA.”