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Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2019
Local basketball courts Jammed tight with hoop fever
by Randy Pascal

Local fans of the sport that owes its very existence to Canadian James Naismith have good reason to be smiling these days. The recent run of good news on the basketball courts in Sudbury has been duly noted.

Starting with the attention that has been garnered by U-Sport Male Athlete of the Year (2017-2018) Kadre Gray at Laurentian University, and over to the on-court and off-court success of the Sudbury Five in their inaugural season, it seems safe to say that the sport is clearly on an upswing in these parts.

And while it might be difficult to definitively suggest that the club basketball system in town is flourishing more so than at any other time that most of us can remember, the glut of teams on both the boys and girls side of the equation with the Sudbury Jam is showing a congestion not seen in the past 10-20 years.

To wit, coach Rick Fillion and the U19 girls kicked off their busy tournament schedule in London, welcoming five new players to the fold this year, including a very talented duo from Huntsville in the form of Celeste Dupuis and Gabby Arseneault.

The locals would win three of their four encounters, shooting the lights out early in an 81-41 victory over IEM Scarborough 81-41, as Celeste Dupuis (20) and Ariane Saumure (17) paced a very balanced attack. Their only loss would come at the hands of the Guelph Knights, beaten 62-49 as Saumure (13), Arielle Douillette (12), Kate Dahmer (11) and Harmony Martel (10) all hit double digits for Sudbury.

The Jam regrouped quickly, defeating the London 86ers (Spears) 81-48 the next morning, led offensively by the troika of Dupuis (21 pts – including six three-point baskets), Saumure (20) and Douillette (19). Finally, closing out against a very familiar foe, the Jam bested the Timmins Selects 63-45, breaking open a close affair with a run of 18-5 in the third quarter. Saumure (17), Douillette (17) and Cloé Douillette (9) topped the scoring charts for the winners.

Between injuries and sickness, the team would take to the floor in their final game with but six total bodies. “We are continuing to work on our defensive strategy, which is our key focus, game over game,” said Fillion. Rounding out the roster this year are Talia Eusepi, Josée Fillion and Grace Tressider, with coaches John Desormeaux and Larry Dahmer assisting Fillion on the sidelines.

Nearly matching the efforts of their much older clubmates were the Sudbury U11 Atom Jam girls, who posted a record of 2-2 in their January tournament in Toronto. Sophie Miller dropped 21 points, including a key three-pointer late, as the Jam edged the Nepean Blue Devils 24-23 in their opener, with Paige Dawson contributing with a handful of critical free throws in this back and forth affair.

The overall team depth of the IEM Scarborough Spartans proved too much for the Jam to handle in game two, as Sudbury fell 50-20. The local duo of Sophie Montgomery and Lylah Jebreen, absolute stalwarts on defense throughout the tournament, battled valiently in the paint against much taller opponents, improving their understanding of body positioning with each and every game.

Finally, a little breathing room for the Jam, who broke away early on the strength of the offensive outbursts from Sophie Miller (24 pts) and Aurora Circelli (10) and the boundless energy of Willa Palmer, outscoring the London 86ers 44-29.

Matched up against the eventual gold medal winning St Catharines CYO Rebels, the Jam were still within six points of the powerhouse before the Rebels scored late, recording a 32-22 victory over the Sudbury girls.

Paige Dawson showed the way on the scoresheet, draining an even dozen points, while defensive wizard Anella Zembrzycki led the team in steals, chipping in with offensive rebounds at the most opportune times. Also helping out on the boards were Gretchen Sulatycky, Kamryn Newell and Brooke Walterbury, as the young girls continue to show an encouraging grasp of positional play and help-side defence.

Finally, Vella Miller displayed an uncanny knack of scoring off the back door cuts, while Elsa Blum was, unfortunately, unable to attend the southern Ontario tournament.

Meanwhile, the Sudbury Jam U15 girls returned home from the Mumba Invitational in Markham with some hardware, earning bronze and garnering some valuable early season experience in the process. That was evident as the locals clawed their way back following losses to both the St Catharines Rebels and Brantford CYO Falcons, forcing the team into a must win simply to create a playoff tie-breaker in game three.

But hitting the floor with just one goal in mind, to play hard and compete, the Sudbury squad downed the East York Eagles from Toronto, and kept right on rolling into the 3rd place showdown, besting YNBA – Newmarket 41-33.

The 2018-2019 team consists of Lili Armstrong, Hunter Brear, Peyton Brear, Vanessa Gauthier, Kayla Hamilton, Lexi Johnson, Angelica Lapensee, Madison Norman, Katie Pilon, Zoe Roper, Julia Thompson, Jenna Walker and coaches Denis Gauthier and Robert Norman.

Elsewhere, competing at a recent tournament at the Hoop Dome in Downsview, the Sudbury U13 Jam girls received a very pleasant partisan surprise when members of both the Laurentian Voyageurs men's and women's basketball team showed up to provide support for the local crew.

The local university teams had wrapped up their weekend double-headers in Toronto, battling the Ryerson Rams and U of T Blues, before making the impromptu stop and eventually hitting the road to head north to Sudbury.

With all that is going on, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate as one big basketball family in Sudbury this winter – in spite of the weather.

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