BARRHEAD - The Neerlandia Eagles have made history.
After the conclusion of the North Central League 1J championships in Slave Lake March 7, Neerlandia Public Christian School (NPCS) boys and girls basketball teams captured championship banners.
NPCS principal and boys head coach Brett Seatter said although the school has a long history of athletic success it is the first time the school has won the championship title in basketball, at least at the senior level.
Last year the NPCS junior Eagles won the championship.
“For our senior boys and girls, it was their first banner and to be able to do it in the same building it was pretty special,” he said.
On the boys side, the championship was decided through a modified three-team round-robin tournament, with the top two teams advancing to the championship final.
In their first game, the Eagles faced the host team, the St Francis of Assisi Catholic Academy Falcons, the defending zone champions.
Going into the game Seatter said they did not know much about the Falcons, not having played them during the year.
During warmup, it quickly became evident that Neerlandia held a distinct height advantage.
“Half of the team was almost a full foot taller than their entire team, but they were very skilled,” he said.
In the first half, Seatter said the Eagles put their height advantage to good use, massing a 15 point lead at half-time.
“They were playing man-to-man defence against us and they just couldn’t handle our height,” he said.
However, in the second half, Slave Lake made an adjustment switching to a zone defence.
“It was interesting, it is something we never have seen before,” Seatter said.
In the Pembina Hills House League, where the Eagles play the majority of their games, it is prohibited to play a zone defence.
In preparation for the Zone championship, the Eagles practiced playing against the defence.
“But there is a big difference between practice and executing it during a game,” he said, noting the players were having problems adjusting to the defence and started missing what would normally be easy shots.
As a result, by close to the end of the third quarter, the Falcons managed to tie the game.
At the end of the quarter, Seatter called a timeout and co-coach Arjan KoekKoek, diagramed their offence.
When play resumed, Neerlandia’s scoring touch came back and by the end of the game, they had won convincingly.
The Eagles’ second game, they played Kinuso School Knights defeating them handily by a 52 point margin.
Their final game was against Slave Lake for the championship in front of a packed gymnasium.
Slave Lake got off to a strong start hitting the vast majority of their shots in the first half.
“They just couldn’t miss,” he said, noting as the first half drew to a close they were trailing by seven points.
But Neerlandia was able to close the gap thanks to a three-point shot by Carter Greilach, followed by two defensive steals both resulting in successful layups, tying the game 23-23 at the half.
During the break, Seatter said he could tell his players were becoming frustrated with Slave Lake’s shooting performance.
“I told them they have barely missed anything and can’t play any better, yet look at the scoreboard, we’re tied,” Seatter said, adding the Falcons were unlikely to be able to keep the pace.
That seemed to Neerlandia some more life, but it wasn’t until Kaden Tuininga went on a tear scoring 15 points in less than five minutes starting about midway through the third quarter that cemented the game for them.
“It was unbelievable, he just kept shooting three-pointers and they kept going in,” he said, adding not only did it give them a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, but it took the home crowd out of the game.
Coach LeeAnne Schmidt noted the girls’ path to the title differed slightly from the boys in that they had to play different teams.
They opened the tournament playing St Francis of Assisi defeating the host team handily 52-11.
They then defeated Kinuso School in another lopsided victory before meeting the Pembina North Community School Panthers in the championship.
“I have to chuckle because if we knew we were going to face Pembina North in the final we would have saved us going such a long distance,” she joked.
Going into the Zone championships, Schmidt said, the girls were a little apprehensive, saying besides playing two teams they had never seen, Kinuso and St Francis of Assisi, the Eagles were coming off a losing effort the weekend before in Gibbons.
That being said, they were confident they could play with Pembina North as they had beat them earlier in the season.
In the first quarter, it looked like the Eagles were going to have their hands full as the two teams stayed neck and neck, but as the game went on Neerlandia started to pull away, eventually winning 28-22.
Schmidt said the reason why she believed they were able to pull away from the Panthers is because of their conditioning.
“No matter what happens these girls just keep running. They are always moving,” she said. “In the end, I think the Panthers got tired and they stopped moving ... and when you stop moving people can go around you.”
As for the future, Schmidt said they would be able to build upon their experience, adding they have a young team, with a lot of returning players.