The Lo-Ellen Prep Knights have worked too damn hard to turn back now.
Though they were not necessarily fans of a tiered Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association, the Knights nevertheless battled tooth and nail throughout the 2021-2022 campaign, earning a berth in the top eight that comprise the Women’s Pool A.
The team, however, took an unexpected blow mid-summer with the news that provincial/national caliber siblings Syla and Savannah Swords would not be available for the upcoming season (their father, Shawn, long-time coach of the Laurentian Voyageurs, had accepted a sabbatical move to join the Brooklyn Nets G League staff, with the girls making their way to Long Island for the next nine months or so).
While this clearly increases the challenge for the ten young ladies who remain in Sudbury, it’s a challenge that they intend to meet head on. “The biggest thing is that even if we don’t win a lot of our games, we’re still playing against some of the top competition in Canada, which is always something to be proud of,” suggested guard Taryn Gauthier, a native of Timmins, now in her second year at Lo-Ellen.
“We fought hard to get into Pool A.”
That is a general sentiment that permeates right across the roster.
“I like playing up, playing against girls that are better than me,” said 17 year-old Oshawa native Javayah Hope, entering her third year in northern Ontario. “That makes me better. I’m excited to get better and battle.”
That is exactly the type of mindset that attracted head coach and program creator Jennifer Bourget to the likes of Gauthier and Hope and all those who have taken to the floor for the purple and black (or purple and white) in their handful of years in the OSBA.
“This program has worked hard to get where it’s at,” said Bourget. “The fact that we’re in a division with the top eight teams in the province is a testament to these girls and all of the girls before them.”
It’s been four years since the launch of Lo-Ellen Prep and safe to say that the word is starting to spread. “It was basically just to get more exposure and play at a higher level,” noted Gauthier of her rationale in heading to the nickel city, the 17 year-old leaving E.S. Thériault after completing her first two years of high-school in her hometown.
“You don’t always get the exposure you need playing in Timmins.”
And then, of course, comes the added bonus of working with a coach who is as highly respected as they come on a local level (and likely well beyond that). “Her understanding of the game in general and the way that she teaches us to play defense, the way that she teaches us to move off the ball, that’s the biggest thing,” suggested Gauthier of her time spent with Coach Bourget.
“Movement off the ball was something I had never really seen before.”
Standing just 5’2”, Gauthier has no choice but to compensate in other areas if she has any chance of playing post-secondary ball, thankfully blessed with some attributes that can very quickly level the playing field.
“I use my speed a lot,” she said. “If I didn’t have my speed, I would not be in the position that I am in now. It’s also a matter of being smart on defense. Defensively, I am really happy with the way that I see the game. The physical aspects can only take you so far.”
The recipe for success is slightly different for Javayah Hope, who interestingly enough made her way to Lo-Ellen on the basis of the fact that it was the only one of the OSBA Prep programs which also offered French immersion classroom teachings, something her parents truly valued.
“I think I’m a very diverse player,” said Hope. “Coach can put me in any spot that she needs me. I can adapt easily. I am really good on defense and that can create offensive plays for my team. The key is staying on your feet – and it helps being long. I have a long wing-span, helping me shrink the floor as much as I can.”
While no one understands the challenge that lies ahead better than Bourget, she also knows that this is the route this team must travel if these young athletes with dreams are to reach their intended goal. “Playing in this tier, with the top eight teams in the province, it’s just going to prepare the girls,” she said.
“You have to match the physicality, you can’t make bad passes, your decision-making has to be more on point – that’s the challenge.”
And having earned that challenge, the Lo-Ellen Prep Knights are not about to duck it now.
The balance of the 2022-2023 Lo-Ellen roster features Annie Balfe, Bree Bourget, Kiersten Goudreau, Charlie Herold, Sam Meban, Emily Sanzo, Sidney Skrobot and Grace Silverthorn.