In a school not known for basketball greatness, one team is bucking tradition.
Elmira District Secondary School’s junior boys’ basketball team has split the season so far, winning five and losing five, a big improvement for a team who had a 1-11 record last season.
Coach Gord Maier says the team has been on a good stretch heading into playoffs.
“We’ve just got a good group of kids. We have an external coach who has a great philosophy, good work ethic,” Maier said.
Maier commends fellow coach Todd Gibbons for instilling the value of working hard into the kids, which they’ve bought into.
The core of the team are Grade 10 players who came with experience from last year’s team. They also selected another handful who didn’t play last year but are athletic with a good work ethic.
“I think we have a good mix of kids that want to work hard, that’s not usual with high school kids,” Maier said.
He pinpoints two players – Evan Rees and Blake Jacklin – who have helped lead the team this season. Rees was injured for the first four games, but has since returned. Maier notes this means theoretically they could have had an even better record. Jacklin is the starting point guard, running the plays. Maier says he’s been solid.
“They both were on the team last year. They’re the core we started to build around those two. Our first five are really solid and we have five other guys we don’t feel bad about throwing in either,” Maier said.
Nearly 30 boys came to try outs, which is unheard of for the Elmira team. The coaches had a different game plan this year when it came to choosing the players, one which caused a bit of talk around the school – especially when players from last year’s team were cut.
“We made some selections that a lot of folks were asking about because there were guys on the team last year that we did not select for this year. We were very deliberate, looking for kids with great work ethic and really positive attitudes and I think that’s been a real difference maker,” Maier said.
He says at the time they weren’t completely sure it was the right decision, but now two months into the season, they think it’s been a big part of their success.
“Everyone’s there every practice. They’re working hard and they want to work hard,” Maier said, adding the team decided they even want to practice over the exam break.
In terms of what the team excels at skills-wise, he says their free throws are average and they shoot well under the glass, while three-pointers aren’t their strong suit. They tend to start games slow and have a drive at the end, but they’re working on starting games with that same intensity.
Their wins included three games straight before breaking their streak on Jan. 19 versus Waterloo-Oxford in a tight 58-52 loss.
They earned their first win on Dec. 6 against Southwood Secondary School, 46-33. Their next win came against Galt Collegiate Institute, 47-35. They also defeated Glenview Park Secondary School 49-41, Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute 45-41 and Preston High School 43-33.
They have two games left of the regular season on Feb. 7 and Feb. 9, both in Elmira at 3:15 p.m. They’ll face Grand River Collegiate Institute first and then Sir John A Macdonald Secondary School two days later.
Qualifiers for playoffs run on Feb. 13, followed by quarter finals on Feb. 15, semis on Feb. 17 and finals on Feb. 22.
“Being we started with a 1-11 team last year, we had said we definitely want to make the playoffs and that was a bit of stretch goal for us as a staff,” Maier said.
“The bottom four teams don’t make playoffs, so a quarter of the league, which is where we usually are. Now we’re looking at a home playoff game and getting through the first round looks very doable. We’ve exceeded expectations, which is great.”