Spartans eager to get season underway
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A new look Neelin Spartans varsity boys basketball team is taking to the court this weekend for the Brandon Sun Spartans Invitational.
Seven players — Wyatt Greer, Reece Lockhart, Chris Fontaine, Irie Taylor, Brayden Foster, Zerek Menard and Malcolm DeGraeve — have aged out from last year’s team, which captured the varsity boys AAA provincial championship on their home court in March with an 84-66 triumph over the Louis-Riel Voyageurs.
“Every year is a new start,” Spartans coach Don Thomson said. “We lose some kids that were key in scoring and rebounding, but we also lost some good character kids as well.
“Now we have returning guys that are stepping into new roles and some rookies that will be thrown into the fire a little bit here. It’s going to be pretty fun to see how everyone develops.”
While the roster may have a different identity, grade 12 student Jeremy Slomiany is eager to see what he and his teammates can do.
“We’re aiming to run it back from last year and I’m just excited to get things started,” Slomiany said.
“Our lineup is a little different and might not be as athletic as last year’s, but we’re going to have a pretty good offence.”
Slomiany is one of six players in their final year with the program. He’s joined in this year’s senior class by J.T. Martine, Kobe Shakotko, Kaden Smoley, Owen Muller, Max Winters and Xander Eilers.
“The provincial run we had last year was a great learning moment for us,” Eliers said.
“Even though some of us didn’t get to play a whole lot, we learned a lot about the atmosphere that comes at those events and what it takes to play in those big moments.”
Muller might be the most excited of the senior group to get the season started after he was sidelined with an injury last year.
“Just to be back here with the guys has me fired up,” Muller said.
The rest of the roster consists of Grade 11 students Felipe Elizade and Nash Henwood, and Grade 10 students Junior Martine, Owen Falk, Ethan Olson, Kal El Wilson and Eric Muller.
While Slomiany joked that the key to the team’s success is the play of Winters — who had 21 points on just 17 shots in last year’s ‘AAA’ final four — the seniors believe that this year’s Spartans will be pretty balanced.
“There’s lots of holes to fill, but I think we’re up for the challenge,” Shakotko said. “We’re going to have to learn to play better as a team and be smarter out there.
“We have the same sort of system as a year ago, but we have some new guys that are getting used to it,” Winters added. “I’m excited to see what we can do.”
The Spartans first test will be at 4 p.m. today when they take to their home court to face the Weyburn (Sask.) Eagles in their Pool A opener.
They return to action Friday at 10:45 a.m. against the Aden Bowman Bears of Saskatoon before wrapping up their pool play against the Glenlawn Lions at 5:45 p.m. Both games will be held at Neelin.
“You need to have your intensity turned up right away and that’s something you need to do come March when you are at the provincials,” Slomiany said.
“I think it will help us a lot to play a ton of top teams,” Eliers added. “It gives us a better idea to see where we rank compared to the other schools and what we can do to compete with them as the year goes on.”
After COVID-19 resulted in the cancellation of the 2020 event and a 10-team competition last December, this year’s BSSI is back to a 32-team format.
“It’s still a little bit different from other years as we’ve had a lot of commitments and decommitments along the way … but we’re all ready to go.”
Thomson expects a competitive field in the Tier 1 group, which the Vincent Massey Trojans have won on four straight occasions.
“I think there are six or seven teams that can make a push for the final four on Saturday,” Thomson said. “Oak Park and Vincent Massey are going to be up there and I think Dakota is very solid.
“It’s great to have Garden City back after a couple of years away, and I also think that Fort Richmond and Glenlawn are going to surprise some people.”
The Vincent Massey Vikings are also competing in the Tier 1 event. They start their Pool D slate at 5:45 p.m. today on their home court against the River East Kodiaks.
The Vikings also face the Winston Knoll Wolverines of Regina at 9 a.m. and the Dakota Lancers at 5:45 p.m. Friday at Vincent Massey.
Meanwhile, the Crocus Plainsmen varsity squad is in the Tier 2 competition. Their Pool G slate gets underway at 4 p.m. today against the Virden Golden Bears.
They’ll take on the Vincent Massey Vikings junior varsity program at 9 a.m. Friday before a 5:45 p.m. meeting with the Selkirk Royals. All three Pool G games will be held at Crocus Plains.
The championship games will be held on Saturday at Neelin. The Tier 2 final starts at 5:10 p.m. with the Tier 1 title contest tipping off at 7 p.m.
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