WESTLOCK – High school basketball has returned to the spotlight as R.F. Staples School (RFS) and St. Mary School (SMS) will be hosting senior boys tournaments next weekend, while the RFS senior girls, who already have one title under their belt, will travel to a two-day event in Spruce Gove.
The 16-team SMS-hosted event at the Rotary Spirit Centre is strictly for rankings in the 1A North Central Zone in advance of the zone playdowns March 10-11 in Thorsby/Breton — the Sharks' first game goes at 6 p.m., Jan. 13. First-year senior boys head coach Ty Snell said the Sharks are chomping at the bit after opening their season with a 2-1 record at the Grand Trunk tournament Dec. 2-3, 2022 and claimed the consolation title — the school won’t be fielding a senior girls team this year.
“If you’re focusing too much on the other teams you kind of stray away from what you’ve been doing. We’ll use this event to tighten up the things we’ve been working on and continue working on getting a good base in place,” said Snell in advance of the event.
Snell is taking over the club from Darcy Romanuik, who retired after 33 years as the school’s athletic director in June 2022 and built the 1A program into one of the best in the region. Snell said Romanuik has been huge in helping him navigate his first season behind the bench, after spending the last six coaching the school’s senior girls volleyball team.
“He’s been great helping me out and is even going to be a guest coach at some of the practices. It's a little overwhelming for me, but he left a really good base to work with. It’s been a learning experience, but a lot of fun,” he said.
Snell said he’s got a great group of boys who have set their sights on getting back to the provincials this year, which go March 16-18 in Coaldale —they’re carrying three Grade 12, four Grade 11s and five Grade 10s. Before zones, the Sharks will travel to a tourney in Bawlf, then host their own Feb. 3-4 at the RSC, then are in Hay Lakes Feb. 24-25.
“They got a taste of provincials last year and are hungry for it again, but we’re trying not to look too far down the road, so we’ll take it one game and one tournament at a time,” said Snell.
RFS boys to play host this weekend
The RFS senior boys also swing back into action this weekend and will host a six-team affair Jan. 13-14 at the school — Game 1 goes Friday at 3 p.m. versus Devon.
First-year head coach Randy Pidsadowski, who spent last year coaching at the junior-high level, admits this will be a rebuilding year for the club, who have only one Grade 12, two Grade 11s and eight Grade 10s. Through two tournaments in early December, the T-Birds scratched out a win at the Louis St. Laurent Catholic School Tournament Dec. 16-17 and finished fourth.
“It’s been going pretty good so far, but in some ways we’re kind of a junior varsity team with all the Grade 10s we have. We have a lot of development to work on, so from my standpoint it’s kind of a three-year build to get the skills back up,” said Pidsadowski, noting COVID-19 gutted a lot of athletic programs around the community. “As long we keep getting better every day and improving and so far, they are.”
The boys will stay busy over the next couple of months at a bevy of tournaments before 3A zones March 10-11 in Morinville.
“We’ve played some good, competitive schools so far and it’s been good to see where we need to get to. For us, this tournament is about building — scoring a few more points and working through our defensive sets better. Really, the final score doesn’t matter. It’s about moving in the right direction and that’s what we’re expecting.”
RFS girls building for zones
Meanwhile, the RFS senior girls have already scored one title this young season, besting the field at the Louis St. Laurent Catholic School Tournament that included a 70-68 OT win over Lloydminister’s Holy Rosary in the semifinal and a 14-point victory over zone rival Morinville in the final — they opened the year Dec. 9-10 going 1-2 at a tournament at Strathcona Christian Academy.
Wade Hicks, who’s in his fourth year heading the program, said the girls are coming off a great 2021-2022 season that ended all-too soon in a two-point loss in the finals of the zones. For the majority of last season, the T-Birds were ranked in the Top 10 of 3A schools in the province and got as high as fourth before finishing as the eighth-ranked club.
Now, looking forward, Hicks said the remainder of the year, which continues at a tournament in Spruce Grove this coming weekend, is about finetuning their game in advance of the March 10-11 3A zones in Whitecourt.
“This year we returned eight players off of last year’s team and the goal for us is to go to provincials,” said Hicks. “We’ve only, at this point in the season, have only got in half of our systems. So going forward it’s about continuing to grow so that by the end of February we’re rolling at the right pace.”
Meanwhile, the school's junior varsity girls team will play at this weekend's SMS tournament with their first game slated for 3 p.m., Jan. 13 versus Breton.