There are challenges every season. Wins, losses, team unity, team dissension.
Many coaches draw up their road map to success during the off-season, targeting dates for where they hope to be as a team, hoping those directions eventually take them to Harbour Station and the New Brunswick Interscholastic Athletic Association Final 12.
The map the Kennebecasis Valley High Crusaders of Quispamsis followed was anything but smooth. But, like explorers of yesteryear, the Crusaders found their way over rugged terrain, bumpy roads and highway off-ramps. They landed back at the Final 12, ready to defend their AAA girls’ title against the Riverview High Royals on Friday. Game time is 6:30 p.m.
Moira Gagnon is Kennebecasis Valley’s head coach, her fourth at the helm of the Crusaders, who defeated Fredericton High Black Kats this time last year to give the school its first AAA girls’ crown. With Megan McKinley at her side as associate coach, Gagnon said 2016-17 was, well, challenging.
“It was an unusual AAA season and several teams went through numerous peaks and valleys during the year,” said Gagnon. “Teams were beating teams one week and losing to them the next. It was either great parity or lots of inconsistency.”
The Crusaders started the season on fire, slumped, re-started the engines after Christmas, but then stumbled down the stretch.
When they dropped a regional playoff game to Fredericton and were faced with the prospects of playing consensus number one Sussex Regional High Sonics in last week’s regional championship, the soothsayers weren’t giving Kennebecasis Valley much of a chance. Someone forgot to tell the champs.
The Crusaders hung 32 points in the first quarter and held on to beat Sussex in the Sonic Dome, not for the faint of heart when it comes to high school girls basketball.
“We knew no one was expecting us to win,” said Gagnon matter-of-factly. “Because of that, there was no pressure on us. The girls focused on playing the game they love for fun. We had a great crowd from KV in the Sussex gym. Louder than the Sussex crowd a lot of the time.”
It seemed to allow the Crusaders a certain comfort zone, despite the tight-ending that propelled them to Harbour Station again. “The girls were very relaxed and shot extremely well,” said Gagnon, who coached at Rothesay High School for nine years before arriving at KVHS. “I knew it was unlikely that we would maintain such a high shooting percentage throughout the game, but it gave us a lead and gave the girls the confidence boost they needed.”
The Royals will arrive as underdogs, with the crystal ball gazers pointing to the fact that none of the Riverview players have appeared in the Bright Lights, Big City movie before at the Station. However, Riverview defeated the Crusaders in both meetings this year. The Royals can score, they can junk it up on defence and make rim attacks a tough alley to venture into.
“Riverview plays a variety of zone and press defences which is different from most teams,” Gagnon said. “They are skilled and have many players who can score. They don’t rely on one or two players for the bulk of their scoring.”
Does the fact the Crusaders have a wealth of returning players help when it is a one game, winner take all?
“Playing at Harbour Station is an incredible experience for the athletes,” Gagnon said. “The atmosphere is great, but it is often a challenge shooting well in the large venue. Several of our team played there last year so they know what to expect but whether they can use that past experience to control their nerves will be determined on Friday.”
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